Through his organization, HAND (Hackers Against Natural Disasters), Gaël impulses local digital citizen security corps across territories that uses bottom-up technology to help citizens to alert, coordinate and organize themselves before, during and after a natural disaster.
Gaël’s methodology consists in developing local HAND chapters whose mission is to implement a local digital citizen security corps on a specific territory, for instance at a department level. To do so, Gaël first identifies local tech leaders (usually amongst digital fabrication labs’ users, the makers’ community, civic organizations…) who will constitute an open team to design and implement a local action plan whose characteristics should respect the HAND’s manifesto: every HAND local chapter’s action must be dedicated to improving natural disaster management and be citizen-led, independent, non-denominational, non-profit, collaborative and open source. With the objective to mobilize all the available useful competencies, the local teams are compounded not only by tech makers but also by other profiles such as nurses, firemen, local representatives, etc. Once the team is formed, Gaël supports the local team in analyzing the local context, identifying the local needs, and setting up a coherent annual action plan that includes mapping the area, developing and installing an alert infrastructure and training the local population, notably through massive simulation exercise.
To do so, Gaël leverages new technologies that gives the power to the citizens to act for their own safety before, during and just after the natural disaster. Before the disaster, the local technical leaders map the area with the help of drones to inform the population with the localization of zones of refuge. They also install the technical infrastructure that is necessary to convey the information directly to the citizens. In this sense, they conceive and deploy an open and citizen-owned alert system with low-cost resilient captors, such as seismic sensors and mareographs, as well as an autonomous telecommunication network (radio systems, 4G relay antenna, etc.). This allows the implementation of a bottom-up information circuit that transforms every citizen in a key player of the alert chain. During the disaster, the citizen community in close cooperation with the public authorities, leverages the social media to inform and indicate good practices. After the disaster, the citizen tech competencies should be mobilized to support rescue operations by collecting and sharing data, mapping zones, restoring the internet access or localizing people in remote areas.
Gaël first experimented this methodology in the French West Indies islands for two strategic reasons. First, these islands are highly exposed to the risks of natural disasters, but the inhabitants are manifestly unprepared. Second, they represent small and delimited areas that are ideal to experiment the installation of new digital infrastructures before targeting wider territories. Gaël reminds that the unpreparedness of the inhabitants clearly exacerbates the risk factor, and thus plans to target the territories deemed to be less exposed than the islands as a second step.
Thus, the first HAND local community was born in Guadeloupe in 2013 with first the strategic mobilization of local civic groups promoting open source practices, and managing a local citizen digital fabrication lab. Today, the local team has already mapped a 5,000 hectares’ zone, indicating exit procedures and identifying upper safe zones, install 34 km of Wi-Fi network over the sea to connect isolated islands, deployed several dozens of sensors directly connected to social networks and mobilized more than 10,000 people to contribute in institutional massive simulation exercises. Two more teams are already constituted in Martinique and Réunion islands to start implementing actions in 2017. Gaël also started to extend his successful methodology to continental areas: in the South of France, a local HAND chapter is building a digital infrastructure across citizens’ roofs to improve water bomber aircrafts tracking in collaboration with a consortium of 14 local public authorities and firefighting services.
To reach broader impact, influencing public authorities is also part of Gaël’s strategy to make them better consider risks and adopt more preventive approaches, and take the citizens’ role into consideration. To do so, not only Gaël hosts public talks to sensitize public authorities and rescue teams, but also effectively supports them in integrating new technologies, and the associated citizen role, in their institutional crisis management procedures. Gaël indeed works with every local HAND team towards creating collaborations with the local public authorities to combine expertise. For instance, in Martinique, a partnership is being built between HAND and the State crisis management cell. In addition, Gaël is also developing a statistical data base about natural disasters to keep raising authorities’ awareness on its human, economic and environmental consequences. Gaël also identified the insurance companies, who are directly concerned when a catastrophe hits, as key partners to engage to financially sustain his action while increasing his social impact. For now, he works with the biggest French insurance company to shift its investment priorities towards prevention, increase its resilience as an organization, and train their employees to better support the clients in times of crisis.
What is more, Gaël works towards transferring his hacking, solution-oriented and positive mindset towards disaster management to the next generation to transform the usual fear into a motivation to act. To do so, he leans on the HAND local chapters to organize in schools awareness sessions or entertaining workshops around developing simple precautionary tools, such as sensors to evaluate rising water levels.