Flood Rescue | A Cross Platform Tool for Flood-Affected Communities

In 2005, Mumbai was inundated by water in a deluge that nobody expected, causing thousands of people to lose their livelihood, their homes and even their lives. My own experience was gruelling, as we waded through the increasingly deep water in an effort to get home, only to find our home flooded and uninhabitable.

With growing concern over climate change and changing weather patterns, unpredictable flooding has become a major issue in several parts of India as can be seen from the 208 Kerala floods, the 2017 North East floods, and the recently disturbing floods in Bangaladesh and Assam.

While there is no lack of individuals willing to volunteer their assistance, the lack of organised efforts makes it hard for them to lend a hand.

A study reports the outreach of 33 disaster-related mobile apps in India is negligible. Most of the apps analysed, till March 2018, had an educational purpose.

This project was an attempt to solve a specific real-world problem through rapid prototyping and design thinking.

Discipline: Design thinking, Ideation, Prototyping, User Testing, User Research

Design Tools: Adobe XD

Duration: 48 hours

Design a cross-platform experience to aid communities affected by floods.

I started the process of user research by conducting an open-ended research on Google and analyzing disaster management applications in the Indian market. The key insights uncovered from the qualitative research were as follows-

  1. There is a need for engaging local communities for tapping into app-based crowdsourcing by mobilising them to voluntarily assist or provide supplies to the affected individuals.
  2. Apps that are currently used in disaster management are primarily educational in nature and don’t tap into the potential of the general population’s ability to help.

I also had unstructured phone interviews with two individuals who dealt with the fallout from severe flooding in their location. This gave me insight into the key needs that affected individuals in this situation have.

  1. Safe Shelter
    Severely impacted locations in low lying areas and villages with limited infrastructure are the worst affected by the lack of a safe space to wait out the floods.
  2. Limited Food and Water
    Most affected individuals are stuck in their homes with limited supplies and an inability to procure more food and water.
  3. Unavailability of Transportation
    Since vehicles are unable to operate in flooded conditions, people are stranded across various locations without the ability to get to their families or to a safe location.
  4. Reduced Connectivity
    Due to power outages, failure of generators and phone lines, the level of connectivity via cell and internet tends to be much lower during floods. It then becomes imperative to have early warning systems in place so that people can seek out shelter and supplies as necessary.

There are numerous government initiatives towards evacuation, camp and shelter provision, supply provision — however there is limited mobility and awareness that makes it difficult for affected people to seek help.

There is a need then, for a cross-platform, collaborative effort that can allow the rescuer (government aid, volunteers, social workers) to locate and assist the stranded or injured victims of the flood.

Based on the research conducted and pain points uncovered, I created two personas highlighting the two key user groups —

  1. The affected individuals
  2. The rescue volunteers

Numerous organizations work in the area affected by floods, but are unable to identify specific individuals in need of assistance due to limited infrastructure. This prevents the basic needs of all the survivors like better connectivity, food, and water from being met in an efficient manner.

Keeping the user persona and problem statement in mind, I began brainstorming potential solutions that had a good balance of achievable and aspirational goals.

At the end of the process, Flood Rescue came to be — a simple, straightforward cross-platform app aimed at connecting individuals seeking help to volunteers who could help them.

Cross Functional Tool
The app is intended to function across platforms through the use of native and web application. That way, an individual who does not have the downloaded app is not excluded from the opportunity to seek aid.

  1. Supplies
    Request supplies or volunteer to provide them to individuals stranded in various locations.
  2. Shelter
    Get directed to the nearest shelter, camp or evacuation effort.
    Find a safe house nearby- people and organizations on higher ground and upper floors can volunteer their space as a shelter for those seeking it.
  3. Transport
    Request transport assistance from volunteers with inflatable boats or transports that can access their locations.
  4. Information
    View live updates of flooding in your location through integration with Facebook Crisis Response.

I started ideating by sketching out paper wireframes to visualize the functionalities of the app, and its real world application. I then moved on to detailing the wireframes in Adobe XD to build a medium-fidelity version of the tool. The goal was to create a lightweight tool, maintaining simplicity in features and use, while ensuring the tool can be used as both a native application, and a web app.

The process of onboarding needs to be quick and to the point, especially for people seeking help- as they might be able to afford much time due to constraints like physical injury, lack of safety, low battery/ connectivity.

The tool is meant to be accessible to all — a screen allowing one to choose one’s language from common regional languages is the first screen to appear.

Requesting Help
The task of requesting assistance is the key flow for this application, and has been kept straightforward, easy to understand, and non-scrollable to avoid confusion.

Volunteering to Help
Volunteering assistance is the second user task on the app. The first step for a volunteer is to provide information about the categories they can assist with so that they can be matched with help-seekers. The homescreen for volunteers places key importance on active help requests that are located near the volunteer.

Other Wireframes

The goal while creating the menu was to allow easy modifications to one’s location or contact information- which in turn would be updated in real time for the volunteer assisting them.

Due to time constraints, I was able to test with only 2 users. The participants were given 2 scenarios-

  1. You are stranded during a torrential flood, and require supplies and transport. Use FloodRescue to request help for the same.
  2. You want to volunteer to help people suffering due to a terrible flood. Use the app to find affected individuals seeking help and volunteer to help them.

Interactive Prototype linked below

The feedback from testing was extremely positive, but a couple of minor issues did come to light, which on modification made the final prototype more user-friendly.

  • Problem: One user pointed out in the ‘Homescreen’ for help-seekers, that the ‘Request Help’ button was hard to locate compared to the ‘Locate a Safe Space’ Button; and the options were too cluttered.
  • User Quote: “I feel like there are too many options on the screen. Oh, I didn’t realize the ‘Request’ button was up here.”
  • Solution: The section was simplified to make the options available to the user extremely straightforward and clear. That way, no confusion can occur at a time of distress.

I developed mockups for 4 out of 12 screens for a high-level visualisation of the tool’s UI elements and visual style.

Web App for Desktop Access
Volunteers will have desktop access, while help-seekers will be able to user the native or web applications for creating requests. Volunteers can use the desktop app to view active requests, volunteer to help them and view the flood-maps

Home screen on the desktop app showing active requests & their locations
Active Request screen on the desktop app showing specific request details

Web App for Mobile Access

Screens for mobile access using a browser were strategically modified to ensure similar functionality and use patterns. Some key elements were changed to ensure compatibility with mobile browsers.

Read the full article here

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