Disaster info web site donated to Forney, changing tornado response
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FORNEY – Forney has been blessed with unprecedented community support after Tuesday’s EF-3 tornado damaged or destroyed 95 homes.
But one thing this Kaufman County city did not expect was Caitria O’Neill, a young woman from Massachusetts.
“At least we’re doing something that helps people learn how to recover from a disaster,” said O’Neill, 23.
She flew to Forney with her laptop, and a unique computer program she helped create.
“Every line of code that we put in is going to change somebody’s life,” Caitria said.
It connects victims with volunteers and even donors.
“It’s really identifying specific needs and specific people willing to give it to them,” said Forney City Manager Brian Brooks.
Victims post specifically what they need, volunteers post their skill or expertise, and donors post items they’re willing to give away.
The city or web site administrator then finds the best matches for them all.
In its first day online, the web site attracted 2,459 clicks.
“And… oh my gosh! We just went up even more,” O’Neill said, while reviewing analytics. “8,000 on Thursday!”
A month after she graduated from Harvard last year, a twister touched down in her hometown of Monson, Massachusetts.
That’s when O’Neill realized the need to organize disaster information, and not let goodwill go to waste.
She said she chose Forney for her first web site because unlike Arlington and Lancaster, which also experienced their own tornadoes, this city did not have a way to accept donations on its official web site.
Organizers who have seen the site she established for Forney for free said it will change the way communities respond to disaster.
Two grants from MIT got the 23 year old here. Everything else comes out of her own pocket.
Caitria said she isn’t looking for a profit, but hopes one day Recovers.org can at least pay for itself, if other cities adopt their own templates before experiencing what Forney now faces.