Top UK developers join forces to make best use of flood data

Top UK developers joined forces at the weekend to create useful resources to help those affected by floods

Tech City in East London hosted more than 200 top UK developers at the weekend, who gathered to create useful resources and digital services to help those affected by floods.

Independent developers and software engineers from firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter joined forces to make use of newly available government data.

The event was set up within two days in response to a government call on the tech community to make the best use of its wealth of flood data.

The data included readings, updated every 15 minutes, from every flood sensor in the UK, providing live data on the situation across the country.

The unprecedented collaboration resulted in a Twitter account that spreads information about volunteering for flood relief efforts, a web service that lets people find out who to call when they have a power cut, and a data visualisation tool that presents flood information.

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Other apps that were shortlisted by judges from the Cabinet Office included Don’t Panic, for centralising online and offline requests for help, UKFloodAlerts for setting up alerts for specific issues like power loss, flooded roads or burst river banks, and Citizen Flood Journalism for automating the process of finding people tweeting from flood-related areas, and asking them to post information.

“The genuinely innovative apps are testament to the creativity, imagination and generosity of our local tech community and demonstrates the power of government opening up data,” Joanna Shields, chairman of Tech City UK told the Guardian.

Before the event, flood data held by the Environment Agency was available only to those willing to pay a licensing fee, making it out of reach for typical start-ups.

The agency has been keeping the data three months, but said it hopes to make it accessible for longer.

The event prompted calls for more data to be made freely available. The BBC quoted journalist and free data campaigner Michael Cross saying the event demonstrated data could be used to produce innovative public services, but there was still a reluctance by government to release more of it.

Chief executive of Tech City UK Gerard Grech told the BBC that besides funding, the unwillingentss of government to give up control of data is a huge stumbling block.

"There is still this mindset in high places that they don't want to let people get hold of this data, because they don't know what they're going to do with it,” he said.

The full list of flood initiatives developed at the event is available here.

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