11/01/2012 02:30 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Power of Pro Bono: How DataKind Helped Prepare NYC for Hurricane Sandy

The effects of Hurricane Sandy have left many of us on the East Coast feeling like we'd been hit from out of left field. We don't have a history of natural disasters, yet this is the second hurricane in a year. Fortunately, first responders were not quite as unaware as we may have believed. If you happen to have been paying close attention to the situation in NYC, you may have noticed that many newsfeeds have referenced the DataKind Storm Risk Map prototype. The map is based on a detailed analysis of storm and tree damage in New York City and best of all, it was done pro bono!

Businesses have long been compiling data on consumer behavior and market penetration. More recently, this trend has gone so far as to redefine the fundamental relationship between consumers and products; consider how Netflix now tells you what movies you want to watch, instead of vice versa. While not quite on that level, the social sector is increasingly following in the footsteps of their corporate peers when it comes to data.

Recognizing this need for technical expertise, DataKind hosted the first DataDive in their hometown of NYC back in September. In conjunction with the NYC Parks Department and the Office of Information Technology & Telecommunications, DataKind tapped their extensive data scientist network to hack up the data, delivering three concrete results, including the Storm Risk Map. (The pro bono marathon also resulted in the Block Pruning Analysis and Tree Diversity Map).

Natural disasters, with good reason, often encourage people to volunteer. Especially in their own neighborhoods, those less affected are driven to lend a hand to their less fortunate peers. In New York over the past few days, temporary shelters and Red Cross missions have seen such an influx of donated time that they have actually needed to turn folks away.

Those familiar with Taproot Foundation have likely heard our belief that pro bono service can maximize social impact far beyond traditional volunteering by matching the right skills with the particular needs of the social sector. DataKind has proven that this is true not only for the capacity-building needs of social change organizations but also during natural disasters. The data they compiled and the tools that they built helped to guide preparation and relief efforts in New York. This critical resource helped countless New Yorkers, and would not have been possible without expertise donated by the data scientists in the DataKind community.

In Sandy's aftermath, DataKind has helped to promote another tool another tool created by New York Tech Meetup and New Work City. This time, they help recruit technology experts to donate their skills pro bono and help New Yorkers get servers back up and running, recover data, troubleshoot internet connectivity and more. Pro bono professionals are critical to the success of the social sector - they ensure that organizations working to improve society have access to the same talent as leading corporations. As we in New York move to get our lives and jobs back to normal, DataKind reminds us why, in times of crisis, pro bono is more valuable than ever.