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The whole thing started in Spring 2009 at the first-ever Crisis Camp in Washington DC where we heard about the challenges that NGOs, governments, and first responders face during disaster response.

We discussed these challenges with colleagues from Microsoft, and Yahoo. We all agreed that we could provide technological development. But, even for large companies, resources are finite. So, the question became, “How do we make this happen quickly?”

We decided to reach out to our active development communities. Out of this effort, Random Hacks of Kindness, a hackathon for humanity, was born. Random Hacks of Kindness, jointly sponsored by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank, aims to build an active developer community around disaster response and humanitarian relief.

At a RHoK Hackathon, benevolently-inclined hackers will listen to a keynote speech presenting the challenges we are facing. Then they’ll churn out some of the most important open source code on the planet — code that saves lives and mitigates human suffering. They’ll address problems like, how do we crowdsource information from local citizens to aid first responders? How do we quickly collect and publish fresh aerial imagery of an affected area? How do we create a comprehensive missing persons finder after a disaster?

Their work will have a positive, lasting impact on the state of the human experience, not just here in the U.S, but all around the globe.

While it’s no exaggeration to call these coders modern-day superheroes, they go home with just a T-shirt for their efforts. It’s a nice T-shirt, but perhaps masks and capes would be more appropriate.