What does the popular fantasy/horror television show Supernatural have to do with a local woman and hurricane rescue efforts?
Turns out “huge fan” Kasi Nadler of West Bloomfield learned, through an online Supernatural fan group, of a grassroots effort to help rescue those trapped by the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Harvey and then Hurricane Irma.
This online campaign, called CrowdRescueHQ, needed volunteers to serve in a number of capacities, including people to scour social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to look for online pleas for help. With millions affected by the deadly hurricanes, emergency responders were inundated with 911 calls, and scores of residents were without power or phone service. Those trapped by rising floodwaters turned to the internet for help.
“There was such a sense of urgency and importance that I had to keep doing this.”
— Kasi Nadler
Nadler, 46, saw the request for volunteers and was compelled to help. “I wasn’t going to fly to Texas, and I’m not in a position to donate but I can do data entry,” she said.
After filling out an online volunteer application over Labor Day weekend, Nadler was asked to search Twitter for hashtags that were hurricane specific such as #HarveySOS. When she came across a request for help, her job was to enter the person’s name, address and phone number into a centralized database and check for duplicate entries. The information collected was subsequently disseminated to volunteer rescuers, the Coast Guard and local authorities.
When she wasn’t at work, Nadler, a psychologist at Havenwyck Hospital in Auburn Hills, sat glued to her computer eagerly searching for requests for assistance and inputting the information in a rescue database.
She watched as people posted initial messages stating: “We need help.” After a few hours, according to Nadler, their online pleas became increasingly urgent as victims tweeted things like: “The water is up to our necks. We don’t know what to do.”
Compelled To Help
Getting by on as little as four hours of sleep a night, Nadler found it difficult to break away from her computer. “I kept thinking, ‘If I could help one more person,’” she said. “There was such a sense of urgency and importance that I had to keep doing this.”
While it’s hard to know exactly how many people Nadler helped, through the efforts of CrowdRescueHQ, 700-plus volunteers from around the world helped facilitate the rescue of more than 6,000 people.
Nadler marveled at the efficiency of this group, which literally popped up and organized overnight as a direct response to the catastrophic impact of Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that devastated Houston.
Christie St. Clair, one of the organizers of CrowdRescueHQ, said the genesis of the group happened while she and a group of online friends watched in horror as so many Houston residents found themselves unable to get help during the storm. Within 30 minutes, someone created a Google spreadsheet of those in need. After an hour, there was a Google map to aid rescuers. Their crowdsourcing efforts snowballed from there.
“It all happened so fast,” said St. Clair, a Virginia resident. “Within 24 hours, we had at least 600-700 volunteers and a system in place to help them. During a natural disaster, the world wants to help. We found a way to harness that. We don’t accept donations in any way. We want to use the power of individual people to do good.”
With the help of companies like Google, as well as Tableau, a data visualization software company, and Fulcrum, a mobile data collection platform, CrowdRescueHQ improved inefficiencies in their quickly organized system. So now, for example, volunteers like Nadler don’t have to look for duplicate rescue needs.
As the recues began winding down, CrowdRescueHQ organizers saw the emotional toll emergency response work took on its volunteers; some of whom have been calling the victims to check in on them. And, as a response, CrowdRescueHQ started a self-care program for its volunteers.
Nadler said that while she is saddened by the extensive devastation and loss caused by the hurricanes, her experience working in a maximum security residential facility, where she sees tragedies daily, made it less stressful for her than perhaps others.
“I’m thankful to have been there to help people through this traumatic time,” Nadler said.
Jennifer Lovy Contributing Writer