Batten down the hatches: Airbnb steps up to help cities prep for disasters


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Airbnb just wants your love. Well, not you, exactly. The home-sharing startup is trying to appeal to your city officials, who have been giving the company a hard time since its launch in 2007. So on Tuesday, Airbnb continued its feel-good tour of 2014 by announcing disaster-preparedness partnerships with San Francisco and Portland.

The company will select and train Airbnb hosts in those cities to respond to emergencies by being ready to open their homes to emergency response personnel and those in need. The company will also use its website and apps to let users know when disaster is about to strike and what steps they can take to get ready. Airbnb will work with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management to make preparing for and dealing with emergencies easier in both cities.

Airbnb hosts have opened up their homes to people in need in the past, most notably in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But that effort was last-minute and haphazard with no formal program in place, so it wasn’t quite a smooth process—aside from the disaster that was destroying property and livelihoods along the New York City shoreline. And still 1,400 Airbnb users welcomed New Yorkers into their homes at little or no cost as the city struggled to recover from the storm—a point Airbnb mentions regularly as it campaigns to change laws governing short-term rentals in New York.

Last year, Airbnb launched a Disaster Response Tool to help guests and hosts easily find and exchange information during emergencies, and help each other out using the platform without having to pay a fee. You can also create listings if you’re not an existing Airbnb host or user but you want to offer up your space—or if you find yourself in need of a place to crash.

The startup’s new partnerships with San Francisco and Portland are extensions of its Shared City initiative in both cities. Airbnb is working with officials to change regulations, collect taxes, and generally make using the service in those cities less fraught. And San Francisco is already using tech to get ready for the next big earthquake. The city last year launched SF72, an emergency preparedness site that leverages Facebook, Twitter, Google's crisis map, Airbnb, and Nextdoor to spread information and connect residents in need.

Airbnb isn’t the only tech company working on 21st century solutions to disasters. TaskRabbit announced Tuesday that first responders can now ask for help from the the startup’s community of 30,000 “taskers,” or volunteers, in 19 cities across the U.S. Car-sharing app Getaround is launching a web portal for disasters to let people know how to find a car if they need one or how to offer up their vehicle if it’s not in use. As part of their civic duty, all the companies are offering their services for free (though your fellow users might charge for their help).

This story, "Batten down the hatches: Airbnb steps up to help cities prep for disasters" was originally published by TechHive.

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