OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

ARC: Community Disaster Response Catalyst

ARC empowering grassroots organizations with tools, resources, and a connected ecosystem of people and data in the face of disasters.

Photo of Jasmine Qin
0 0

Written by


While the current COVID-19 health crisis has touched virtually every segment of the population, the most vulnerable populations -- seniors and people with health conditions -- are disproportionately affected. In the face of a humanitarian crisis such as the spread of COVID-19, grassroots organizations, such as faith-based organizations, youth groups, and social justice movements, are among the most important disaster responders at the frontline especially across vulnerable communities. Grassroots organizations are best positioned to deploy the right response to the right places during and after crises, because of their knowledge of local needs and resources, as well as being a trustworthy source among community members. Across the nation, aid agencies and philanthropic entities are also stepping up to scale, shift, and direct resources and supplies products and support to address these needs. However, there are clear gaps in making these initiatives more effective to help the most vulnerable populations:

  1. With limited experience and operational constraints to respond to humanitarian crises, grassroots organizations find it difficult to pivot to humanitarian response.
  2. With inadequate information about the community’s vulnerabilities and resources, disaster response work becomes hectic and ineffective.
  3. With different organizational structures and information management procedures, coordination across disaster management stakeholders has been challenging. 


To bridge these gaps facing grassroots organizations and disaster management agencies in the wake of COVID-19, we draw from in-depth disaster resilience field research (interviews, focus groups, and participatory observations) in Puerto Rico as well as extensive literature review on disaster risk reduction, information systems, organizational study, behavior, psychology, sociology, and case studies from around the world. Through our active engagements over the past year, we have formed partnerships with community partners and disaster aid agencies ready to pivot, co-design, and pilot solutions most appropriate for their cultural and institutional contexts. We look to provide grassroots organizations a suite of tools and training to fill these gaps.

  1. We develop training materials and management systems in collaboration with grassroots organizations for effectively recruiting and supporting volunteers to meet disaster management demand and build long-term resilience. Community volunteers are the most powerful force to unite to respond to humanitarian crises and to build long-term disaster resilience. Drawing from best practices from the field and social science research, we empower grassroots organizations with training and technology -- from communication strategy to volunteer management -- to mobilize citizens to support each other and build sustaining relationships. For the most vulnerable populations such as isolated seniors and those with limited access and experience with technology, community volunteers bridge the digital gap and provide much-needed companionship. Together with volunteers, organizations will be able to expand their capacity in disaster management efforts to meet the growing demand during and after crises.
  2. We co-design easy-to-use mobile and web-based platforms with grassroots organizations to crowdsource, manage, and communicate community needs with a focus on vulnerable individuals. To help direct and coordinate disaster management efforts, information on vulnerabilities and resources of communities is crucial. However, in many parts of the world, information on vulnerable populations and places are often missing, unusable, or illegible. Based on field research with community health workers, we co-design easy-to-use mobile and web-based platform to allow volunteers and grassroots organizations to collect key information for disaster response and recovery efforts, including 1) health and medical needs; 2) supply needs (food, water, and other necessities); 3) mobility and transportation; 4) mental health; and 5) financial challenges. Due to the health concerns, these efforts will deploy safe approaches such as calling that respect the social distancing rules while minding the digital and technology gap with our target vulnerable populations.
  3. We bring grassroots organizations and aid agencies and philanthropic entities together to plan and implement disaster response and recovery efforts with trusted and data-driven insights. Grassroots organizations have limited capacity and information to identify the right entities to ask for help, while aid agencies and philanthropic entities face challenges in finding the right places to provide resources and supplies. Based on the community information collected by volunteers and grassroots organizations, we distribute and communicate tailored information and strategies for grassroots organizations and aid agencies to partner on distributing funding, donation, and supplies for disaster response and recovery.  

What is the need are you focusing on?

At the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, decisionmakers put senior adults at the center of relief efforts. The media highlighted what practitioners already knew: as we age, we develop chronic health problems; our social networks thin out; we become less mobile and less able to access public programs and support. Despite targeted efforts during the pandemic, nearly eight of every ten deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States were persons aged 65 and older. The death toll from COVID-19 is due in part to particularities of the virus, but the elderly historically disproportionately suffer in the wake of crises. Humanitarian responses have yet to marshall the power of data and information exchange to effectively reach and serve these isolated and vulnerable populations regularly, and our efforts can entirely break down in times of crisis. Without any changes to current information systems, the most vulnerable will continue to suffer disproportionately during and after crises.

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Identifying a gap that needs to be addressed

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

We are leveraging our ARC (Act, Ready, Connect) model for response to natural disasters to introduce our new human-centered approach to data collection and use in grassroots community organizations in times of health crises. Our impact will include better outcomes for traditionally vulnerable populations after the COVID-19 crisis as well as improved capacity for organizations to marshal volunteers outside of crisis scenarios.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Through ARC, we look to bridge the gap in current disaster management efforts and bring together grassroots organizations and aid agencies and philanthropic entities to maximize their impact in helping the most vulnerable populations. In the US, islands and coastal areas among the most impacted areas by natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes. We look to start our initiative in these areas to maximize our impact in building community disaster resilience beyond COVD-19. According to the US census, our potential total target population size (people over 65 and people with disability under 65 living under the poverty line) across four of the most vulnerable areas (Texas, Luisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico) could add up to 5 million. We look to reach 5% of the total target population or or 250,000 people in five years. For the most vulnerable populations particularly in these disaster prone, low-income communities, within 3-6 months as cities and states take a phased approach to reopening, we envision ARC to: 1) improve ease of access to essential services and supplies; 2) reduce health and mortality risks; and 3) reduce mental health challenges due to isolation and disruption to normal life. For grassroots organizations, in 6-12 months, ARC will 1) enhance management capacity; 2) broaden and deepen community engagement; and 3) improved partnership and access to funding and resources. Lastly, for disaster aid agencies and philanthropic entities, between 3 - 6 months, ARC will 1) improve efficacy of disaster response efforts; and 2) minimize negligence and target aid and service provision to where the greatest needs are. . ARC is built on a long-term vision for sustainability and preparedness. For many existing volunteer-based solutions, volunteer recruitment and retainment can make or break the program. After Hurricane Maria, individual and organized volunteers in Puerto Rico have been essential in the recovery. However, most of these activities peaked after the event and died out gradually. We are integrating best practices in social and behavioral sciences mobilizing and sustaining collective efforts in communities, including systems and platforms to reward good deeds that are most welcomed in the communities we work with. These reward systems we have explored include public recognition from government officials, social media celebration, honors in community gatherings, and a timebank for exchange of goods with local shops as well as corporate sponsors. Additionally, we also consider the central benefits of ARC to be the improvement of social connectedness and capacity to organize and respond to disasters and other emergencies as a community, which has proven to be the most important factor in building resiliency. Through ARC, we hope to foster greater trust among the key stakeholders and create a positive reinforcing cycle that will amplify impact, through a more human-centered approach in delivering essential services and channeling resources to where the needs are greatest.

What is the name of your business or organization?


What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

ARC is a collaborative solution to boost disaster resilience for communities through a more connected ecosystem of people and data in Puerto Rico and beyond. It has three key components: 1) Connect: ARC works with community organizations to formalize a buddy system that connects community members with the elderly and others in need to provide assistance; 2) Ready: Through the buddy system, communities collect and manage crucial information about the vulnerabilities and resources to get ready for disasters; and 3) Act: ARC will then be able to help integrate crowdsourced local information and provide actionable insights to disaster management agencies to help maximize their impact through targeted support in response and recovery efforts.

What is your profession?

Social Impact Entrepreneur and Graduate Student at MIT

Where are you located (country)?

United States

Where are you located (region)?

  • North America

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Entrepreneur/Investor
  • Non-Profit/Philanthropy
  • Technology

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 0-10

How old is your business/company?

  • 1-2 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Nonprofit/NGO

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • No

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

The main barriers to introducing this new humanitarian crisis solution to communities include building trust as a new entity within local communities and the adoption and training of new technologies. The ARC model mitigates these challenges through our people-centered approach. ARC focuses on building relationships with anchor community organizations that have already developed trust with local populations. Additionally, to alleviate technology adoption challenges, ARC designs data collection platforms and applications alongside our community partners. We spend time with community organizations to hear about their existing processes and develop our technology with our partners input and feedback.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?

Yes. Community mutual aid groups organized through google forms, Facebook groups, and other community groups. We are in close contact with a few (including Cambridge, MA mutual aid group, Shaper Hands, Covid 19- cooked and delivered meals for people in need,, and Nesterly Good Neighbors) as we explore partnership opportunities.

Website URL


Join the conversation: