Corporate Content

Putting Technology to Work and Saving Lives

By Bob Lord, Chief Digital Officer, IBM
January 29, 2019

When IBM announced Call for Code in 2018, we couldn’t imagine the extent to which our belief in the collective creativity of the open source community to solve the world’s biggest problems would inspire action from communities, governments and organizations around the world. We also didn’t anticipate we would spark the imagination of a former U.S. President.

Yet, today, I joined President Bill Clinton on stage at the third annual Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post Disaster Recovery in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, we announced Commitment to Action in 2019, a partnership between IBM and the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to encourage university students to harness data and leading-edge technologies to address some of the world’s most pressing problems, including the human devastation caused by natural disasters.

As part of the collaboration, we will be executing a series of in-person and online campus “codeathons” this year to engage and equip university students with the skills and technology resources they need to help turn their ideas into tangible action. We will work with students from across the U.S. and abroad to show them how to use IBM open source technology to build potential solutions. We also will collaborate with university representatives, topic experts from IBM, first responders and others to discuss and develop innovative solutions to make positive change. We’re hopeful these efforts will save lives endangered by hurricanes, fires, floods and other serious emergencies.

“As more people around the world continue to be impacted by natural catastrophes, we have a greater responsibility to equip students with the skills and technologies needed to develop innovative solutions that can save lives, mitigate destruction and protect our planet,” said President Bill Clinton. “This partnership with IBM will raise the profile and increase our understanding of the world’s most effective natural disaster response and resilience efforts.”

Action is what we need, and no community knows that better than Puerto Rico. The territory was devastated last year by Hurricane Maria, now one of the deadliest disasters in U.S. history. We witnessed firsthand the human cost of that tragedy when we brought Call for Code to Bayamón for a hackathon last August. We also witnessed the inspiring fortitude of a community ready for change, as local coders joined us in a marathon session to apply technology to aid disaster preparedness and response, based on their own personal experience.

That’s why I was equally thrilled to announce that, in partnership with the government of Puerto Rico, the Call for Code 2018 winning submission – Project Owl – would be piloted in Puerto Rico. Project Owl (Organization, Whereabouts and Logistics) provides a simple technology solution to enable disaster victims and first responders to get in contact when all other communications infrastructure is destroyed.

“Puerto Rico knows the serious effects of natural disasters too well. As such, it is the perfect place to serve as a testing environment for Project Owl as the technology makes it into deployment,” said Luis Arocho, chief information officer for the government of Puerto Rico. “We are looking forward to working with IBM as well as Project Owl as they continue to harden the solution to help us save lives in the future.”

I am looking forward to how our partnerships with CGI U and the government of Puerto Rico will encourage students to create the next breakthrough solutions that can be implemented to help communities make a real difference. I am hopeful that, by working together, we can provide tangible solutions, like Project Owl, to help us solve some of the most critical social challenges of our time.