Web Site Launched to Help California Wildfire Victims

By Jason Mednick

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 24, 2007 --  A Calit2-affiliated UC Irvine professor and team of students have created a free Web site to help residents displaced by the Southern California wildfires find temporary housing by electronically matching them with others who would like to offer assistance.

Gian Mario Maggio

“All of us have been affected by the fires, and many of us have friends who have had to evacuate,” said UCI informatics professor Bill Tomlinson, who led the development of the site. “In class, we were discussing what we could do to contribute, and decided we had the skills and resources to make a Web site to help evacuees find places to stay.

“UCI has a great group of undergrads, and soon we had a team of 20 programmers, designers and researchers willing to work overnight on the project.”

To utilize the service, which is available to people in any Southern California region that has been affected by fire, a resident in search of a temporary home can log in to http://calfirehelp.com and provide basic information about their needs, including how many people are in their family, where they’re located and whether or not they have pets.

Residents wishing to serve as hosts can also log into the site and enter information such as their location, the amount of space they have to offer and whether or not they are able to host children or pets.

Guests and hosts may then search the database for people who might be good matches, based on proximity and other attributes. The site keeps user information anonymous and private until the system determines that a suitable match has been found, at which point more detailed contact information is provided to both parties.

The site, which was developed in a lab at the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology (Calit2), also contains a news feed that provides the latest information related to the fires from a variety of news and information sources.

The idea for the Web site came from Tomlinson’s personal experience. He had an extra room to lend but had some trouble locating someone who needed it. At the same time, he heard that people displaced by the fire were having difficulty finding places to stay, since many hotels were already filled to capacity.

“Those of us who haven’t had to evacuate are the lucky ones.  We have resources to spare, and want to help in whatever way we can,” Tomlinson said.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,800 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.7 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

Media Contacts
Jason Mednick, 949-824-5951, jmednick@uci.edu

Related Links
Housing Help for Wildfire Evacuees