Hyperlocal social network Nextdoor isn't just about introducing you to your neighbors so you can borrow each other's lawn mowers, recommend babysitters, and pitch in to find lost pets. The network also has more than 100 partnerships with local governments, which can issue alerts to specific neighborhoods about things like street closures, broken water mains, and even bigger emergencies. Including, someday, the Big One.
While Nextdoor has networks in more than 32,000 neighborhoods in all 50 states, the company is headquartered in San Francisco, and on Thursday it announced its latest partnership, with San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management (DEM). This will allow the city government to share real-time information during an emergency, like a big earthquake, with individual neighborhoods of connected citizens--100 percent of San Francisco's neighborhoods have a presence on Nextdoor, so the pairing makes a ton of sense.
"This partnership is good for us not just as a company, but as individuals, since we live in San Francisco," explained Nextdoor cofounder and CEO Nirav Tolia. Out of Nextdoor's more than 170 partnerships with local governments, he said, "It's our most extensive partnership with a department of emergency management to date."
San Francisco's DEM already runs SF72, a website that provides citizens with resources for preparing for a major disaster, like an earthquake, with the goal of helping people remain self-sufficient for the first 72 hours of a crisis, when city services will be stretched the most.
Since no one in San Francisco likes thinking about earthquake readiness, but we do love our technology and our social networks, SF72 already has links to networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Airbnb. For example, it reminds you to update your Facebook status after an emergency, and recommends people have Airbnb accounts to more quickly and easily find (or offer) shelter in case of an evacuation. When a disaster occurs, SF72 switches to Emergency Mode, providing real-time information and crowdsourced updates, neatly integrated with a Google Map.
Nextdoor is a perfect fit for that system, since it empowers citizens to share information with and offer help to their neighbors, even when everything's fine. My own neighborhood Nextdoor is a lively hub of topics, from gardening tips to restaurant recommendations--and it's also where I find out about crime and safety issues like car thefts and home break-ins. In the case of an emergency, Nextdoor would be a better resource than Twitter or Facebook to find out what's going on and who needs help, since everyone you communicate with there is part of your neighborhood--and everyone is dedicated enough to being a good neighbor to have joined Nextdoor in the first place.
In fact, that's just what happened recently in Potrero Hill, a San Francisco neighborhood that's very active on Nextdoor (its more than 2800 neighbors puts it in the top 10 of the 32,000 Nextdoor neighborhoods nationwide). During a massive fire in nearby Mission Bay, explained neighborhood Nextdoor leader Tim Sigle, Portrero Hill residents dealt with street closures, and some were even evacuated from their homes due to smoke and ash.
Nextdoor users mobilized to share real-time information, look after neighbors' pets, and even opened their homes to people who couldn't return to theirs right away. Sigle praised Nextdoor's iOS and Android apps for letting neighbors stuck at work in other parts of the city keep tabs on the situation. "They're tapped into the neighborhood even when they're not there," he explained. With the new partnership, Nextdoor users will have even better access to official information directly from the DEM: "This will be a big help to get actual, factual information," Sigle said. And when neighbors already know each other via Nextdoor before a crisis, they'll be even more likely to lend a hand to each other.