In my capacity as regional co-chair of Burners Without Borders, I once asked some of my peers if there is a manual somewhere for how to respond to disasters. That’s what we do. We respond to disasters and provide things like shelter and critical infrastructure. Unfortunately there is currently no repository of tools and strategies for responding to disasters.
Since this is so closely related to my other projects NomadPedia and Resource-Sovereignty, I decided to try to take on building a blog about what we’ve done in the past and what has worked well. This will hopefully become a tool for those who are responding to these kinds of disasters in the future, and a living document that we can continue to develop and update as we continue to work on providing shelter and infrastructure to disaster areas around the world.
I have done a great deal of personal research and interviews with people in experimental and improvised communities about how they address individual-scale solutions to infrastructure problems.
I’ve taken countless pages of notes and countless photos of the examples. As regional co-chair of Burners Without Borders, I am also working on deploying these solutions at homeless camps throughout the San Francisco bay area.
This project is about working on compiling all of this into a simple set of categories which will hopefully make these solutions more accessible to people who are trying to learn how to solve these problems on an individual-scale.
This is a project I’ve been working on for some years which is slowly evolving with experimentation and research. The basic idea is that small groups and communities should be able to reach a point where they can provide for their own needs without new inputs and while managing and minimizing their outputs. I call this idea resource sovereignty.
The idea is more than sustainability, resiliency, permaculture, arcology, etc. But it incorporates parts of these ideas plus more. The basic idea is that communities should not need anything from the outside in order to survive, and they should be able to live in a way that will keep working indefinitely.
Earthship Biotecture is very close to this idea but they are not really feeding themselves and they are not solving problems like internet connectivity and radical water reuse. They are still relying on inputs from the outside for things like water, comprehensive nutrition, and they are not controlling and managing their outputs to the degree that seems necessary in the long-term.
My other project NomadPedia is looking at how to solve infrastructure on an individual-scale. This project in contrast is looking at tribal-scale and community-scale solutions to these problems, and more from the perspective of staying in one place rather than constantly moving around.
I built a moving cabin which is basically just a custom self-sufficient self-powered rv that I’m using to travel safely and conduct my research on improvised infrastructure, community resilience, sustainability and other related topics.
Corona Country is a twist on the earlier project Covid19 Progress. This app shows you data at the county level in your area. So you can see how coronavirus is going where you are.
There are a couple of reasons I decided to launch this project. While it’s interesting to compare countries and states, I think it’s more interesting to feel some agency and control over your own personal choices. Knowing which areas to avoid and which areas to frequent for things like shopping and essential services could mean the difference between life and death for people with comorbidity factors.
Another major difference from the previous project is that it shows a two-week average in daily change rather than focusing on the current day’s data. The problem with showing the current day’s data is that since this is a chaotic disaster, the numbers often seem to be batched and some zeros show up in between numbers in the thousands. Showing an average makes it much more clear what’s going on if you’re trying to see a simple number that explains and compares between counties.
Since Corona Country is GPS-based and shows you the nearby statistics, it also features a dropdown menu to allow you to check out the statistics in other metropolitan areas.
This project is very different from Covid19 Progress on the back-end. The challenge is very complex. We need to be able to handle both time-series and statistical data about approximately 4,000 counties around the country over a period of several months, and probably another year at least into the future.
Each day, Johns Hopkins releases a very large CSV file containing lots of information about every county. The first step is fetching this file. A lot of the data is either bad, ignored, or junk. Many of the fields are never filled out, or contain irrelevant or redundant data. The file is too large to put into memory, so the script must loop through it looking for the current data for each county. Next, that data must be parsed and then put into each county’s individual archive file. This current data must also be updated in the database. (The database contains only the current day’s data for each county.)
I know what you’re thinking; why not just put everything in the database? The problem is that each time a user loads the page, we would have to fetch thousands of rows and then parse them into the correct format that chart.js wants. The other problem is that past rows are often updated in new releases of the Johns Hopkins file. So we would have to check hundreds of thousands of records every day to see if they need to be updated. By the time this is all over, that will probably grow to millions of rows. Instead of doing it that way, we can put just the basics in the database and use it only to select the closest counties and get the static data. This is much faster. The rest of the data is already parsed and waiting for us in each county’s archive file. Parsing these files is slow work which only needs to be done once a day.
When a user opens the site, the static homepage asks for the user’s gps information or offers to let them choose a metropolitan area. Then it queries the api which finds any counties within 50 miles, and fetches the archived data for those counties and returns it to the user. This takes an average of just 30 milliseconds and about 180k of ram per request.
I saw an opportunity around the lack of clarity and accessibility for coronavirus statistics. I also saw a lot of misleading claims made by people with an agenda. I wanted to bring clarity to the data and make it easy to understand and compare. And so, Covid19 Progress was born!
This simple site allows anyone to log on and compare numbers between any country, and even between states. Rather than giving a total number infected or dead, it reports these things in terms of a percentage of the population. Also interesting is the graphs of change in growth over time. This is part of what inspired the next project, Corona Country.
Some of the results are very surprising. For example, while the united states has far more cases than any other country, it is closer to the middle of the pack in terms of percentage of the population infected. Likewise, some states are doing a much better job than others, and this is much easier to see with the tools on this site.
The back-end is based on my earlier Draupnr project. Once a day, the updated information is fetched from Johns Hopkins, then it gets parsed into data for each separate state and country. The data is filled into a template and comes out in two forms; chart.js on top and tablesorter on the bottom.
Producing static html files like this means it’s very easy to handle virtually unlimited traffic because the server is not doing any compute during the requests. This is something Pieter Levels talks about a lot as an important design goal people should keep in mind.