How Tech Companies are Responding to California Fires

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Firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames consume from the Camp Fire consume a home in Magalia, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (AP/NOAH BERGER)

Guest post by Violet Blue

As many know, some of the world’s biggest tech companies call San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Silicon Valley their home. Locals have had a hell of a time getting those companies to put us, their neighbors, ahead of company shareholder goals. Uber adding over 6,000 cars to our streets daily, Twitter opposing the business tax for homeless, overpaid employees driving up rents and worsening the divide…you get the picture. It hasn’t been a pretty one.

California’s Camp Fire this past week has been an unbelievable, devastating tragedy – and now everyone, techie or not, is feeling its effects. As of Friday, November 16, at least 63 people are dead and 631 remain missing, while the fire itself is only 40% contained and has consumed 140K acres. The San Francisco Bay Area is blanketed in smoke, causing school closures and extreme “purple air” alerts in which local officials are begging everyone to stay indoors.  

(If you’re reading this from outside the Bay Area, you can probably imagine this. But what you can’t imagine is the smell and thickness of the air, nor the way it seeps through cracks into homes and cars. It smells like heavy burnt metal, chemicals and wood. It smells like burning homes.) 

One of the silver linings to this bizarre, dystopian disaster is that some tech companies are stepping up to help people in need. It’s a shining spot a lot of us can really use right now. 

Airbnb launched a program running through November 29 where users can open up their homes for free to displaced residents and relief workers, displaying the available lodgings on a map. Over 1300 hosts have signed up so far, housing at least 300 people in need.

While Apple hasn’t yet offered specifics, Tim Cook stated on Twitter that the company was donating to relief efforts in both Northern and Southern California. 

Local file-sharing company Box Inc and Cisco have both set up internal Bright Funds campaigns for employee donations, with The Cisco foundation matching $100,000 of employee donations. Cisco Tactical Operations and its Disaster Incident Response Team are being made available to aid relief efforts in re-establishing satellite-based communications.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted on the 9th, “We are mobilizing to support those impacted by the #CampFire, #HillFire and #WoolseyFire with SOS Alerts, and committing resources from @Googleorg to aid those in need.” What this means remains to be seen. A Google spokesperson told Mercury News last week that the company “is trying to determine which organizations it will support.” The media relations employee “also pointed to Google.org’s $1 million donation, announced in late October, to the First Responder Support Network. It’s a Bay Area nonprofit that seeks to help firefighters and other first responders who are suffering stress and trauma from doing their jobs.”

Bay Area water delivery and infused-water startup Hint announced that for every case of water sold on their website, they’ll match and donate an additional case of water to “shelters in need” (the company links to The California Fire Foundation).

Lyft has expanded its Relief Rides program, a combination of (limited) free rides for those affected and an option for all users in which they can round up fares and donate to United Way’s California wildfire recovery efforts and the 2-1-1 program. The company’s blog post details:

In both Northern and Southern California, passengers in need can use the ride codes below. Each ride code is good for 2 rides up to $15 until Sunday, 11/18 while rides are available.

Northern California: In Northern California, individuals in need of transportation support can use the code CAMPRELIEF in Chico.

Southern California: In Southern California, individuals can use the code WOOLSEYRELIEF in the surrounding areas near Thousand Oaks, including Ventura and Los Angeles.

PayPal is donating $200,000 to the American Red Cross and $100,000 to Direct Relief to support fire efforts for both Northern and Southern California.

Salesforce, which has recently been really giving back to the City, announced on November 12 that it had “raised $250,000 to fund an Emergency Response Vehicle and 25,000 meals.” The company also set up a public Red Cross donation page for fire relief efforts, offering to match employee donations of $50 or more.

That’s it for now. Let’s hope more of the Bay Area’s moneymakers dig deep because they sure can afford it!

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