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Woman Opened Her Home To Victims Of Hurricane Sandy, Inspiring Airbnb Executives To Develop Innovative Disaster Response Tool

Shell, an Airbnb host, holding tray of food for guests.

The two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is fast approaching us here in the U.S. For some it will be a painful reminder of suffering and loss. For others, the chance to reminiscence about life’s happenings in their neck of the woods when Sandy struck. But, for the 1,400 hundred Airbnb hosts in New York who opened their homes to Sandy’s displaced victims, it will be a sweet reminder of the life-changing power of hospitality.

Communal movements like this don’t just appear out of thin air; it takes a pioneer, someone willing to stick their neck out for the sake of others. Shell, a long-time Airbnb host in New York City, was that pioneer. When she realized the dire circumstances of those displaced by Sandy, she generously listed her space for free on Airbnb. Little did she know, her act of kindness would inspire 1,400 other hosts throughout New York to do the same.

Shell at dining room table with guests
Alice Gao via Airbnb.com

What started with one generous heart and an open home has since morphed into a large-scale disaster response tool. On July 11, 2013, Airbnb executives formally announced the launch of their disaster response initiative. Chief Technology Officer and Airbnb Founder Nathan Blecharzyk had this to say about the initiative:

“This work and the amazing outpouring of generosity from our community inspired us to build this tool. In a crisis, finding housing can be one of the toughest challenges. With 300,000 properties across the globe listed on Airbnb, we now have the infrastructure in place to help at a moment’s notice.” (Read more from Airbnb’s official press release)

The Airbnb team developed new processes that enable them to quickly identify hosts in areas affected by natural disasters, automatically email these hosts to ask for their participation, and allow participating hosts to offer free listings with no booking fees to those in need.

Since the launch of this new tool, Airbnb hosts have opened their doors across the globe to care for victims of natural disasters, including in:

  • San Diego in response to major fires
  • Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia for people affected by the Balkan floods
  • London, Sardinia, and Colorado after serious flooding hit these regions
  • Kefalonia after an earthquake hit the island
  • Toronto and Atlanta following severe ice storms
  • The Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan

The speed and earnestness with which the Airbnb team developed this new use of their technology stands as a wonderful example for other companies to keep a close eye on how their community uses their technology.

For those of us who don’t work for or own such a company, let’s commit to living more like Shell. For her, this wasn’t a one-off act of kindness, but rather an overflow of a deeply selfless spirit. That picture above is at one of Shell’s weekly Sunday Brunches, which she hosts in her loft at a dining table that seats 25 people. It’s safe to say, when you’re around Shell, you’re family. No questions asked.

Check out the video that Airbnb produced to tell this powerful story:

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