people stand in line for gas after Hurricane
people stand in line for gas after HurricaneReuters

The U.S. government and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) recruited the assistance of an Israeli-developed smart-phone app to deal with gasoline shortages on the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The government agencies called the offices of the navigation app Waze, which combines elements of social networking to assist drivers, and asked for assistance in determining where to send gasoline trucks in New Jersey, the technology news website GigaOM reported.

Waze promptly launched a system enabling users who had visited a gas station to report on conditions there, said the app’s vice president of platforms and partnerships Di-Ann Eisnor.

Waze’s navigational maps also featured pins to indicate gas stations that would remain open.

It relayed hundreds of messages FEMA and the White House and sent the data along to Google’s Crisis Maps, which collected disaster resource information.

Eisnor said it would have been unlikely for the government to have turned to Waze even a year ago, but after growing rapidly to about 30 million users, up from 13 million users six months ago, the app was able to sufficiently reach and mobilize users in an effort to gather emergency data.

“We did not think there would be a fuel shortage and FEMA would need to talk to the Waze community but I think it’s a given now that a problem like this needs to be crowdsourced and government and citizens need to work together,” Eisnor said, according to GigaOM.

Eisnor also said she was also pleased with the response from users, who were more than willing to assist their peers and give back to the greater good through crowd-sourced tools.

In future crisis situations, having a widely used platform and a willing group of users could play an even bigger role in restoring order, gathering information or providing need, she said.

“Everyone was just helping each other out. Things can change when people are involved in massively-scaled crowd participation,” Eisnor added.