NEW HAVEN, CT — A New Haven company housed at 770 Chapel Street is smack dab in the middle of rescue and relief efforts in Houston during one of the worst weather events in the country’s history.
SeeClickFix is a communications platform for citizens to report non-emergency issues. The city of Houston uses it to track, manage, and reply to citizen issues. Since the start of the storm it has been jammed with calls for assistance, according to its co-founder Ben Berkowitz.
“A flooded Houston has flooded Twitter and Facebook with calls for assistance from neighbors,” Berkowitz said. “In the coming weeks the City and volunteers will be overwhelmed with requests for assistance to repair infrastructure and put Houston back together.”
Berkowitz has also communicated a direct message to those who use SeeClickFix in Houston.
“Our thoughts are with all of you affected by Hurricane Harvey who are struggling to put life back to normal,” Berkowitz said. “Please let us know if there are additional ways we can be helpful at SeeClickFix. You can always email me directly Ben at SeeClickFix Com.”
As of Tuesday evening, the slow-moving, record-shattering tropical storm Harvey pummeled the Houston region for a sixth straight day and began to batter southwest Louisiana. With hundreds of thousands of people under evacuation orders, shelters are filled with people craving news about the safety of their loved ones and the state of their homes.
For now, the city’s focus “will continue to be on rescue,” and not on damage assessment — much less recovery — Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a news conference.
The National Weather Service said Tuesday that Harvey has set a record for total rainfall from a single tropical cyclone in the continental United States. Two weather stations in Texas reported total rainfall over 51 inches.
Local officials have reported 22 confirmed and suspected flood-related deaths, including confirmation Tuesday that Houston Police Sgt. Steve Perez, 60, died while driving to duty on Sunday. Many more deaths are feared
A city-wide curfew for the city of Houston from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. was imposed late Tuesday night.
On Wednesday morning, the devastating path of Harvey made landfall again – this time in Louisiana, hitting as a tropical storm where it is expected to drop another five to 10 inches of rain.
“It hasn’t been easy for people in our office to watch their computer screens and see what’s been happening in Houston,” Berkowitz said in an interview Tuesday evening, taking a short break from monitoring the storm damage.
“We have people who are very empathetic and who really care about the communities they take care of,” Berkowitz said. He talked about one SeeClickFix worker being distraught after seeing a report of several livestock dying coming across a 311 Houston computer screen report.
SeeClickFix allows users to report non-emergency problems from downed trees to clogged sewers to graffiti or potholes. Local officials monitor the site and respond to the problems reported and also to the person who reported it.
Berkowitz said SeeClickFix has worked with the city of Houston and several of its neighboring suburbs since 2009.
“Just in the Houston area alone we probably handle about 30,000 citizens,” Berkowitz said.
Before Hurricane Harvey came along, Berkowitz said the majority of calls SeeClickFix handled for Houston were for things such as illegal dumping. “Standard fare,” is how Berkowitz termed it.
Now, that’s changed.
Berkowitz said these days he “is keeping an extra eye on Houston all the time,” making sure the system is up and running and that all communications are being properly passed on to authorities in the overwhelmed city.
He added the company’s work in the Houston area will only increase in the coming weeks as operations shift from emergency calls handled by police and other emergency personnel to calls that are SeeClickFix specialities, such as power outages, downed trees and other types of “more routine” assistance.
SeeClickFix has grown out of its New Haven origins to cover thousands of towns and neighborhoods both in the United States and across the world.
SeeClickFix, which Berkowitz said has about 35 employees, also offers an associated free mobile phone application.
The tool centers around a web-based map that displays all user comments. All users may add comments, suggest resolutions, or add video and picture documentation.
While SeeClickFix initially aligned itself with many news organizations when it first launched, today it pays the vast majority of its bills by working with government municipalities directly — contracting with those municipalities to find and solve neighborhood problems.
Municipalities have willingly signed on with SeeClickFix after finding the company does a better job than cities themselves handling citizen complaints.
“Cities have tried to do what we do themselves,” said Berkowitz. “A lot of them have come back to us to do the work for them.”
“We woke local governments up to what people want and expect,” continued Berkowitz. “Our platform has become an important part of the inner workings of government.”
The company has been in business for close to a decade.