Civic hack­ers

Pro­gram­mers unite to find so­lu­tions for real-world prob­lems

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Kyle Arnold Staff Writer

in Or­lando unite to find so­lu­tions for real-world prob­lems dur­ing this year’s Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing.

A po­ten­tial emer­gency al­ways made for­mer sub­sti­tute teacher Lisa Vinson ner­vous, fig­ur­ing out each school’s rules for ac­tive shoot­ers or an in­jured stu­dent.

Now work­ing in the tech field, Vinson tried Sat­ur­day to fix that prob­lem along with a hand­ful of pro­gram­mers at the Or­lando site for the Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing.

From voter ed­u­ca­tion to clear­ing storm drains, pro­gram­mers put their col­lec­tive heads to­gether to brain­storm for the greater good. It’s a yearly pro­gram that in the past has tack­led prob­lems like im­prov­ing Or­lando’s per­mit­ting process, mak­ing it eas­ier to ac­cess city meet­ing’s over Ama­zon’s Alexa de­vices and re­design­ing Or­lando’s flag.

The Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing is a pro­gram stretch­ing coast to coast and headed by Code for Amer­ica. In the past, the Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing has re­sulted in pro­grams such as one in Hous­ton to alert res­i­dents ahead of hur­ri­canes.

Code for Or­lando co­or­di­nates the event in Cen­tral Florida, and this year got the

best turnout since it be­gan here said An­drew Ko­z­lik, one of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead­ers.

“For us, it’s about ac­tu­ally get­ting projects built that help solve real-world prob­lems,” Ko­z­lik said. “We can get to­gether and hear from peo­ple from all sorts of places about how to fix is­sues peo­ple deal with ev­ery day.”

At the event, par­tic­i­pants split into groups to work on projects they were in­ter­ested in. Vinson’s group was made up of a school­teacher, a par­ent and a so­cial ac­tivist. All were con­cerned about how to get in­for­ma­tion to teach­ers quickly in the event of an emer­gency at a school.

“Some­times in an emer­gency, you don’t al­ways know what’s go­ing on or you can’t ac­cess the book of pro­ce­dures quick enough when try­ing to man­age all those stu­dents,” said Natalie Roberts, an Osce­ola County school teacher.

New school safety rules passed by Florida law­mak­ers af­ter the Fe­bru­ary shoot­ing at Park­land’s Mar­jory Stone­man Douglas High School is show­ing how com­pli­cated school safety is for schools and teach­ers alike, Roberts said.

The group’s plan was to put to­gether an app that teach­ers could use to quickly sort through var­i­ous sce­nar­ios. That way teach­ers can ac­cess school poli­cies in the event of a shooter, a tor­nado, a fight or an in­jured stu­dent. Another goal was an alert fea­ture.

“I picked this be­cause I’m a par­ent with a daugh­ter in school,” said Ryan Comp­ton, an Or­lando soft­ware de­vel­oper.

Another group tried to cre­ate a por­tal to give vot­ers more in­for­ma­tion on lo­cal elec­tions, par­tic­u­larly for ob­scure po­si­tions where can­di­date in­for­ma­tion isn’t widely avail­able.

One group of more than a dozen de­vel­op­ers and stu­dents were try­ing to find a way to com­pile in­for­ma­tion on why tech tal­ent was mov­ing away from Cen­tral Florida af­ter col­lege.

That team was made up of col­lege stu­dents, hir­ing man­agers and a few that were set to leave Or­lando for bet­ter job op­por­tu­ni­ties in At­lanta and Cal­i­for­nia. The group was look­ing to both fig­ure out how much tech tal­ent is leav­ing the area and find out why.

The teams weren’t charged with com­plet­ing an app or web­site in one day, but lead­ers hoped they could cre­ate a plan to de­liver to the City of Or­lando or other groups for more de­vel­op­ment.

“You hear so much about peo­ple leav­ing the area, but there isn’t the data out there right now to show how much it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing,” Code for Or­lando’s Erin Den­ton said. “But we can come out here and work to­gether and find so­lu­tions.”

Code for Or­lando’s Erin Den­ton leads a brain­storm­ing ses­sion as part of the Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing in Or­lando on Sat­ur­day. KYLE ARNOLD/STAFF


Brizzell Scott, left, Ryan Comp­ton and Natalie Roberts work on a school safety idea at the Na­tional Day of Civic Hack­ing.

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