| by Mareisa Weil

Nile Dixon ’20 should be on Mayflower Hill right now, celebrating the start of the school year with his friends and family. But like tens of thousands of other Houstonians, he is hunkered down, riding out the disaster that is Hurricane Harvey.

In true Colby fashion, however, he is engaging to help his community. Dixon quickly launched a textbot to connect people stranded by the storm to the nearest available shelter. He even took the time to answer some questions from Colby.

Colby: Tell us a little bit about your experience on the ground right now. What’s going on in Houston?

Dixon: Houston is going through arguably the worst rainfall in U.S. history from Hurricane Harvey. An area spanning roughly the size of Delaware is receiving half of the expected rainfall for the year a matter of 48 hours.
Some people have been flooded out of their homes, many have been stuck at work, and many highways have been completely submerged in water.

What made you think up and implement the textbot idea so quickly?

Houston has a really supportive tech scene. There is a nonprofit that I have been a part of called Sketch City, and we develop tech to solve problems we see in Houston, usually through civic hack nights and hack-a-thons. At the most recent hack-a-thon, I worked with a great team of friends (we call ourselves The Good Houstonians) to help develop a chatbot to help homeless people find homeless service providers.

When the hurricane came, I saw a published list online of the shelters available and wondered, “If I had no power, how would I access this list?” And realized it would make sense to develop an SMS textbot to help people find the nearest hurricane shelter to them, just as we did for homelessness.

Is there a way to tell how many people have used your textbot?

We can’t provide specifics on how many people have used the bot, but the bot has sent over 300 messages in the span of 24 hours, with the biggest uptake of messages being sent within the past 12.

What are you most looking forward to when you get back to Mayflower Hill?

Man, I am really looking forward to engaging with the amazing community that Colby provides. I think this feeling was exemplified by Colby’s response to the hurricane. Throughout this experience, I was constantly receiving emails of support from faculty and staff at Colby, such as Professor Gross, Professor Mullins, and the entire Academic ITS staff.

Any suggestions for people who want to help Houston right now?

There are two main ways that you could help Houston:

1) Donate. If you have a heart to provide financially, that would be great, whether it’d be actual money, or goods like clothing, school supplies, or food.

2) Provide consolation. There are many people who you may know living in Texas or Louisiana who have been impacted in some way by Harvey. Even if you think they are okay, it always feels reassuring to know that you are in someone’s thoughts and prayers.