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Airbnb helps cities prep for disasters

Jul 29, 2014

In case of a catastrophe, the cities of San Francisco and Portland now have an ally in Airbnb.

The rapidly growing service for renting rooms, apartments and homes has signed agreements with the San Francisco's and Portland's disaster preparedness agencies to help those communities better aide residents during emergencies. The announcement was part of the White House's Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative, which was created after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and is focused on finding ways that technology can help in catastrophes.

As part of the agreement, Airbnb will identify hosts willing to help displaced locals during an emergency, use the company's technology to alert hosts and guests about emergencies, and offer disaster response training its hosts.

Airbnb, which is based in San Francisco, has a history of helping locals during times of need. The startup reported that 1,400-plus Airbnb hosts in New York offered up their homes to Hurricane Sandy victims in 2012 at a discount or free of charge. Last year, Airbnb created the Disaster Response Tool, a set of emergency response features — emails sent to hosts asking if they can help take in residents and offer free bookings in affected areas — that can be quickly turned on anywhere where Airbnb is available.

It's worth noting Airbnb isn't the only member of the so-called "sharing economy" market that is offering up its services during natural disasters. Earlier this month, Uber announced a nation-wide partnership with the American Red Cross that sees the popular ride-sharing startup donating its commissions from select trips to the American Red Cross. Uber will also offer free transportation to American Red Cross volunteers during such emergencies.

Airbnb and Uber's efforts come at a time when both companies have hit rough patches in terms of regulation and could benefit from currying favor with government officials. A number of cities including New York City have tried cracking down on Airbnb rentals. Meanwhile, some cities have targeted hosts with lawsuit for turning their homes into unofficial hotels. Uber is no stranger to regulatory challenges, as well. It currently faces lawsuits in Maryland and Virginia from traditional taxi companies, the same businesses that it's competing against.

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