Close to 30 million mobile app users turn to Waze to tap its crowd-sourced data for car directions. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and the White House saw an opportunity to use the app in a new way, following widespread gas shortages due to Hurricane Sandy.
The government agencies called up Waze Friday night and asked for help in figuring out where to send gasoline trucks in New Jersey. Since many gas stations were out of power or were unable to open, the challenge became understanding where to send the fuel and who needed it most.
Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze’s VP of platforms and partnerships, told me that within an hour, Waze had a simple system up and running that allowed users who visited a gas station to get a system message that allowed them to report the conditions there. The users were able to leave a chit-chat message explaining if there was gas available, how the lines were and how long the wait was. The Waze app also displayed pins on its maps for local gas stations that were open.
Waze relayed hundreds of chit-chats back to both FEMA and the White House and sent the data along to Google’s Crisis Maps, which collected disaster resource information. After opening up a line of communication with New Jersey residents, Waze heard from users in Staten Island and Long Island, who also complained of gas shortages. Waze then expanded its reporting program Saturday night to those affected areas and turned over that information to the government, helping them target more gas stations.