Learning from Disaster Data

Donation Items4

Hurricane Sandy donation item distribution

Recovers has been used in several disasters over the past year including Hurricane Sandy , the Oklahoma tornadoes, the Alberta Floods, and the Idaho Wildfires. Part of our mission is to change the way disasters happen by learning from our experiences. A key part in this process is the collection and analysis of non-personally identifiable information, or as we will refer to it, “non-PII” data.

What is non-PII data?

First, let’s start by defining personally identifiable information (PII). PII is information that can be used to identify, contact, or locate you. When you sign up to donate, volunteer, or request help on a Recovers site, you often create an account that asks you for your name, email, phone number, username, and address. These pieces of information are all considered PII.

Non-PII is all of the information that cannot be used to identify, contact, or locate you. On a Recovers site, the remaining information including what you have donated, what skills you listed, and type of help you have requested are all considered non-PII data.


Why are we looking at this data?

The non-PII data gives us insight into how the public helps during a recovery effort, and how we can improve disaster recovery efforts in the future. Questions we are looking at include:

  • What are the most donated items and volunteer skills?
  • What items and skills are really needed in a recovery effort?
  • How do the resources and help needed differ by disaster (flood, hurricane, fire, etc.)?
  • How do the resources and help needed differ by geographic location?
  • When do individuals donate or volunteer?
  • How can we be better prepared for disasters?


Hurricane Sandy data

For the same reason that the US Government is releasing a lot of non-PII data, we are also planning to release the non-PII data from our Hurricane Sandy recovery effort for research purposes. There are universities, organizations, and non-profits around the world that are doing research into disaster preparedness and recovery. As part of our goal to disaster recovery smarter, we hope that releasing the non-PII dataset will help lead to better preparedness and recovery efforts.

As an extra layer of security, we have used natural language processing (NLP) to remove any remaining PII contained in our data. (Sometimes people enter PII in fields that are not normally used for PII.) To accomplish this, we contracted with Idibon to go through all of our non-personal information fields and scrub any remaining PII. You can read more about it on Idibon’s blog. This is a fairly quick process and Idibon has done a great job. In fact, they have worked on many other disaster response efforts, including the Haiti earthquakes, to keep people’s information secure.

If you’d like access to the Hurricane Sandy non-PII dataset, please contact us at support@recovers.org.


Your PII is safe

When you create an account on any site, you should be concerned about any personally identifiable information you release. Here at Recovers, we take your information seriously. All of our sites operate over a secure (SSL) connection.

For a more detailed description of the use of your information, you can review our current Terms and Conditions of Use and Privacy Policy.


Stay tuned

As we have a chance to analyze the data and answer our questions, we will post them here on our blog. And as our data is used to gain better insight into the recovery process, we will keep you informed. Here at Recovers, we are working to make disaster preparedness and recovery smarter.


This entry was posted in data, preparedness, tech, tips by Chris. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris

Chris Kuryak is the Chief Operating Officer at Recovers. He holds a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. He was the President of the MIT Film Club and on the staff of the MIT Clean Energy Prize. He worked for four years at Athena Manufacturing in Austin, Texas after receiving a B.S. from the University of Texas at Austin. He spends his free time working on independent films, playing videogames, and traveling.

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