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Education / Hackathons / Universities

This year’s PennApps focuses on emergency preparedness

Hackathoners from Penn and beyond will compete for $40,000 in total prizes starting Sept. 7.

Students hacking at last year's event. (Courtesy photo)
Correction: PennApps has been around eight years, not 17. There have been 17 iterations of the hackathon over that eight-year span. The article has been corrected. (8/21/18, 3:00 p.m.)
What other student-run hackathon do you know of that dates back eight years (that’s 17 editions) and once took over a stadium?

Yes, it’s the University of Pennsylvania’s yearly PennApps hackathon, which typically draws a four-digit attendance of student hackers from around the world. Its 18th event is happening Sept. 7–9 at Penn’s Engineering Campus.

The prompt for this year will have some 1,200 young technologists working on ways families and communities can improve their preparedness in the face of extreme climate events like hurricanes, floods or storms.

“Hack-for-resilience,” asks the PennApps website:

Natural disasters are occurring more frequently and causing more damage than ever before. In 2017, the U.S. saw three land-falling hurricanes, multiple floods, storms, droughts, and the most destructive wildfires in California’s history – resulting in a record-breaking $300 billion in damages. As more people move into hazard prone areas and climate change alters the frequency and severity of extreme events, losses are expected to escalate even further.

“It’s a cool community,” said PennApps Director Claire Donovan. “It’s usually an amazing weekend with tons of innovation and and collaboration.”

Donovan, 20, is a computer science and linguistics major who admits to being overwhelmed the first time she attended PennApps, but quickly felt the event helped her connect with like-minded students.

“I just went for the free swag but then I started to meet people in the engineering community,” Donovan said. “College might get stressful at times but PennApps seems to be that weekend where everyone is just happy by contributing and learning.”

Though the selection process for the event is now closed, students anywhere who are 15 or older can join PennApps events, though 80 percent of those selected must be college students. All told, prizes for the competition amount to $40,000, sponsored by some big names like FacebookGoogle, AirBnB and GlaxoSmithKline.

Win a booth

On Saturday, PennApps will host a Startup Fair amid the hackathon. Any member who’s interested in having their company present can email Jeanette Lloyd at to be entered into a drawing for free booth space. If you become a member before Aug. 31, you’ll also be entered to win.

Become a member
Companies: University of Pennsylvania

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