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Hacking catastrophes: Toronto to host first-ever disaster hackathon

First responders will play partners in technology-based approach to fighting off natural disasters.

Flooded beaches are shown as the Toronto Islands are threatened by rising water levels in Toronto on Friday, May 19, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Flooded beaches are shown as the Toronto Islands are threatened by rising water levels in Toronto on Friday, May 19, 2017.

Following a summer of unprecedented natural disasters, Toronto's tech industry wants to study how cities can become better prepared.

Next month, the city will host its first three day hackathon exclusively dedicated to natural disasters. The goal is to find tech solutions that can help cities look ahead and prepare better for the next Harvey or Irma.

Participating teams, which will include first responders, designers, emergency preparedness experts, lawyers and insurance professionals,will comb through extensive data sets and case studies as they brainstorm ideas to be presented to a panel of judges. 

At the end of the exercise, three winning teams will receive a $7,000 prize each.

The timing couldn't be more appropriate given the damage natural disasters have caused this summer, from flooding in Toronto to catastrophic hurricanes south of the border, said Bilal Khan, CEO of OneEleven. The innovation hub has partnered with insurance company Aviva Canada to put together the hackathon.

"With the introduction of new technology platforms and social media, information can travel at rapid speed," Khan said. "I'm not sure that we've fully integrated some of these new tools into processes and systems in the disaster relief efforts."

Khan added Toronto was lucky as summer flooding only caused smaller incoveniences — such as the closure of a few parks and the island.

Nevertheless, it would have been better if there had been a way of predicting what was coming, he noted,

The hackathon could bring that opportunity of looking at these kinds of problems from differet angles, he said.

"No one has the answers but it's all about being proactive and thinking ahead," he said. "We need to be better prepared."

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