HHS Picks Winners in Facebook App Challenge

First prize and $10,000 went to two Brown University graduates for an app named Lifeline that will be launched prior to this year's hurricane season.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has chosen three winners of its challenge to develop Facebook apps that help users prepare for emergencies and get support from their friends and family during an emergency. The ASPR Facebook Lifeline Application Challenge invited software application developers to design new app to establish social connections prior to an emergency.

First prize went to two Brown University graduates, Evan Donahue and Erik Stayton, with their Lifeline app. Coming in second was a Las Vegas team (David Vinson, Erick Rodriguez, Gregg Orr, and Garth Winckler) with an app named JAMAJIC 360. Third went to AreYouOk? developed by TrueTeamEffort, a team of 11 University of Illinois students headed by Alex Kirlik.

All three allow users to designate Facebook friends who agree to check on the user in an emergency; supply them with shelter, food, and other necessities; and provide that person's social network with an update about his or her well-being. The Lifeline app can create disaster readiness plans, share them with emergency contacts, and provide users with news. It also allows Facebook friends to collaborate on tracking the user's status in a disaster-affected area "so these friends can easily find the user's lifelines and contact them to report that the user is safe or if the user appears to be missing. This networked approach," according to ASPR, "increases the efficiency of finding missing users. The app allows users to print cards with a snapshot of their preparedness plan to carry in their wallets."

Its announcement said the Lifeline app is anticipated to be launched within a few months -- before the start of this year's hurricane season. Donahue and Stayton received $10,000 and complimentary passes from Health 2.0 to attend the spring Health 2.0 conference in Boston. The JAMAJIC 360 team received $5,000, and TrueTeamEffort received $1,000.

"We're really excited about the potential of the Lifeline app to help people not only to reach out to friends and family for the kinds of assistance they may need in an emergency, but also to help improve their personal health and preparedness," said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. "Having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster, so we want to encourage everyone to identify those people in advance. Since so many people use Facebook to connect with one another, it seemed like a natural way to help people to identify their lifelines.

"People who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don't, which means establishing these social connections can enhance individual and community resilience," she added.

For more information about application challenges sponsored by federal agencies, visit challenge.gov. To learn more about ASPR and preparedness, response and recovery from the health impacts of disasters, visit the HHS public health and medical emergency website, www.phe.gov.

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