Sharing data across Red Cross projects: the Smoke Alarm Portal and allReady


OTS has been lucky enough to work with the Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois (CNI) for the past year and a half, thanks in large part to the civic data community at Chi Hack Night.  With Jim McGowan, CNI’s Director of Planning and Situational Awareness, we developed the open source Smoke Alarm Request Portal, where you can request to have a volunteer come install a smoke alarm in your home for free.

Now we’re connecting the Smoke Alarm Request Portal to allReady, an open source platform for volunteer preparedness and coordination (part of the Humanitarian Toolbox suite of disaster preparedness and prevention tools).  With help from both open source communities, the two applications will share data to simplify the process of scheduling smoke alarm installations.

The Red Cross and open source

The American Red Cross is a volunteer-driven organization: their disaster relief and prevention campaigns depend on the work of many people who are not on staff.  CNI in particular believes that this focus on recruiting, training, and involving volunteers across their organization means that they should run their software initiatives as collaborative open source projects.  Open source offers their volunteers another way to be involved in their work, and allows people who may not be able to offer time on the ground a way to contribute to the Red Cross’ mission.

Smoke Alarm Portal


The Red Cross currently has a goal to reduce home fire deaths and injuries in the United States by 25% by 2020 (see their resources page on home fires).  One piece of their campaign to prevent fires is free smoke alarm installation.  Anyone can sign up to receive a free smoke alarm for their home, and Red Cross staff and volunteers will bring and install one or more as needed.

CNI was already accepting smoke alarm installation requests by phone, but they (and the rest of the Northern Division) realized they could manage requests much more efficiently via the web.  They just needed a simple application where users could request a free smoke alarm.  OTS built an open source application and deployed it at  See the project on GitHub to see the code, or to get involved (as many people have).

Humanitarian Toolbox and allReady


While the Smoke Alarm Portal was being developed, Jim McGowan began working with the Humanitarian Toolbox (HTBox) project on an ambitious open source solution to increase community resilience and disaster prevention efficiency.  The allReady project, as described in their announcement blog post and project page, aspires to “put disaster out of business” by increasing the resiliency of communities across America.  Its goal is to be a central application for coordinating volunteers across disaster prevention and relief campaigns for the use of non-profit groups like the Red Cross as well as town and city governments. (See the allReady GitHub page here.)

Bringing them together

Since allReady aims to be the central warehouse of all disaster prevention data for its users, it’s only natural that it should be used as an interface into the Smoke Alarm Portal.  Even before allReady is in production, OTS is working with the HTBox team to add API endpoints to both projects that will allow Red Cross volunteers to update the status of smoke alarm requests from within allReady, without affecting the workflow for people requesting smoke alarm installation.

Once this work is complete, end users will only need to interact with, while administrative users (Red Cross volunteers and staff, in this case) can sign in to manage smoke alarm requests and other kinds of prevention work from within allReady.  If a Red Cross staffer knows that a volunteer team is going to a neighborhood to install smoke alarms, they might also be able to stop and drop off supplies for a family in the same area that recently suffered a different kind of emergency.  Once the volunteers update the smoke alarm installation status in allReady, that application will also update the status in the Smoke Alarm Portal.

Next steps

Linking allReady with the Smoke Alarm Portal is still in progress.  We’re happy to work with anyone who wants to to improve and test the endpoints on both projects, to review documentation, and to give feedback on design.  Most importantly, though, let your local disaster prevention groups know about allReady and the Smoke Alarm Portal, and check the batteries in your smoke alarms!

One Reply to “Sharing data across Red Cross projects: the Smoke Alarm Portal and allReady”

  1. Cecilia Donnelly,
    Hi this is Holly Green from California Red Cross Kern chapter in Bakersfield. I was wondering if you could contact me about this program we are trying to do the same thing in our area and would like to speak to you about how it works and other questions. [Contact information edited out as part of comment approval process; yes, we contacted them 🙂 . -OTS]

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