Startup companies involved in the Sharing Economy are making their networked resources available to the city to help it prepare to deal with natural disasters.

Resiliency: San Francisco leverages sharing economy to prepare for disasters

Better safe than sorry. This is a lesson that is well understood in San Francisco, which suffered the disastrous 1906 earthquake. Together with the resulting fires, the quake destroyed a huge area of the city. Alongside hurricane Katrina, the disaster remains one of the most serious in US history. San Francisco Bay, situated on the massive San Andreas fault, may not be able to avoid future similar calamities and Mayor Ed Lee has now decided that the city should look to some of the region’s key resources, the city’s nimble startups, for assistance. He has just announced a partnership between the city and BayShare, the Bay Area’s association of players in the ‘sharing economy’, with the objective of bringing sharing economy startups on board the city’s resiliency planning structure. “The growing 'sharing economy' is leveraging technology and innovation to help the city become more prepared and resilient against disaster," explained the Mayor.

Sharing goods and services in emergency situations

The idea was largely inspired by the partnership formed between Airbnb, an online platform that enables people to rent out spare living space on a short-term basis, and the city of New York, when hurricane Sandy hit. As many families found themselves homeless, Airbnb launched a mini-site to come to their aid, enabling anyone to offer to accommodate victims of the hurricane free of charge. A total of 1,440 Airbnb members contributed to the operation, taking people into their homes. The initiative helped to spark a fundamental realization among both startups and local authorities that such sharing economy platforms constitute an extremely valuable resource when disaster strikes. Platforms such as Airbnb for lodging, Lyft and CityCarShare for shared transportation, and LiquidSpace for office-sharing, are all able to tap into local communities of connected citizens who are happy to share their cars, workspaces and living rooms. This means that there are large numbers of vehicles and considerable square footage potentially available to help large-scale emergency victims.

Involving startups in the city’s resiliency planning

The partnership between San Francisco and BayShare has several aspects. First, in tandem with Airbnb, a standardized tool has been created which can be deployed easily if and when a catastrophe occurs, along the lines of the New York initiative. Meanwhile other firms, such as famous design thinking agency IDEO, a locally-based innovation and design firm, are helping to draft emergency plans in collaboration with the city’s Department of Emergency Management. Thirdly, the partnership has set up a process for long-term dialogue between the city and the sharing economy startups. Mayor Lee has invited BayShare to join the San Francisco Disaster Council, which meets every quarter, bringing together the local authorities, the emergency services, other related bodies such as the Red Cross, and henceforth the BayShare startups, to share views on the city’s resiliency strategies.

By Alice Gillet
English editorial manager