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Matthew Marchetti, a member of Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, looks at three computer screens as he works to locate people who need rescuing during Hurricane Harvey. Marchetti, along with Nate Larson, designed CrowdSource Rescue to help connect those in need with volunteer rescuers.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Marchetti

Matthew Marchetti, a member of Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, looks at three computer screens as he works to locate people who need rescuing during Hurricane Harvey. Marchetti, along with Nate Larson, designed CrowdSource Rescue to help connect those in need with volunteer rescuers.

Members of Chapelwood United Methodist Church, of which Matthew Marchetti is a member, organized rescue groups during Hurricane Harvey.

Photo courtesy of John Stephens

Members of Chapelwood United Methodist Church, of which Matthew Marchetti is a member, organized rescue groups during Hurricane Harvey.

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Marchetti’s plan to help Houston expanded to the world

 

By Crystal Caviness*

Matthew Marchetti, whose home church is Chapelwood (Texas) United Methodist Church, is an #amazingUMChero.

Rescuing more than 37,000 people was not what Matthew Marchetti had in mind when he developed CrowdSource Rescue (CSR), an online platform that the lifelong United Methodist designed in the early days of Hurricane Harvey flooding Houston last August.

Since activating CSR, rescues have happened throughout Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and, as recently as the May floods in Maryland.

“This all started with my church,” Marchetti said. “As we watched the hurricane headed our way, I was feeling called to help people, particularly the elderly people in church.”

When a small group at Chapelwood (Texas) United Methodist Church gathered to develop a rescue plan due to the massive flooding, Marchetti was there. With the historic storm’s ferocity came more precarious rescue situations and Marchetti vividly remembers trying to reach one church member in particular.

“The water was rising and we couldn’t get through to 911. Buffalo Bayou had turned into a white water rafting experience and we didn’t have a boat strong enough to handle the rapids. We were looking at maps trying to figure out how to evacuate this church member. The power is going in and out, it’s pouring down rain and the hurricane is hitting again. We can’t reach the Coast Guard or the National Guard and we aren’t sure what to do. The water is rising more and more.”

Overwhelmed with the urgency, the need and the lack of resources, Marchetti considered if there might be a better way.

He recalled talking to a friend, also a church member, and saying, “Yeah, we should do something.”

Seven hours later, Marchetti and Nate Larson, after putting their data engineering skills to work, launched a website to connect people needing rescuing with volunteer rescuers using mapping and dispatching technology.

“I went to bed that night with maybe 20 rescue requests that had been entered and woke up to thousands,” Marchetti said. “I freaked out. How were our three boats (from church) going to rescue all of these people?”

Overnight, CSR had gone viral, with thousands logging their rescue requests and civilian rescuers signing up on the site and connecting with those in need.

“We had 60,000 people on our site at one point calling rescuers and victims, each coordinating, rescuing and dispatching in their own zones,” Marchetti said. “CrowdSource Rescue became bigger than me and my friends in an instant.”

“God works where you have giftedness, passion and need,” said the Rev. John Stephens, Chapelwood UMC’s senior pastor.  “Matthew is talented, with unique skills around computer coding, he had a desire to help people and the need was right there.”

Approximately 30,000 people were rescued throughout Houston using CSR. Before waters fully subsided from Hurricane Harvey, however, Hurricane Irma was wreaking havoc in Florida and Puerto Rico, and CSR was back in use. Then came Hurricane Maria, and, not long after that, the Mexico City earthquake and California wildfires, with CSR being utilized during all of these disasters.

With CrowdSource Rescue fully operational for rescue and recovery operations, Marchetti has turned his attention to meeting with first responders, including the Houston Fire Department, the third largest in the nation, to discuss how they can integrate the city’s current system into CSR.

“We believe neighbor helping neighbor is the quickest way to recovery from disaster,” Marchetti said. “It’s the fastest way for relief and it’s the fastest way for recovery.”

Because of the impact the web-based app has made on communities during times of natural disasters, Marchetti and CSR have received a number of accolades, including being selected as a recipient of a Daily Point of Light Award, a recognition that honors individuals and groups creating meaningful change in their communities, and being featured by Texas Monthly as one of the most innovative organizations in the state.

While thousands may credit CSR and Marchetti for life-changing assistance, Marchetti said his life has changed significantly, as well, as he watched CSR in action, particularly in those first days of Hurricane Harvey.

“I think of my life as pre-Hurricane Harvey and post-Hurricane Harvey,” he said.

“I have this amazing gratitude for this experience with CSR. God just happened to pick us up to be His Hands and His Feet. And then a lot of people came in behind us – thousands, with some driving 30 hours nonstop from as far away as Idaho -- and together we rescued Houston.”

“It didn’t matter your politics, your religion, your race,” Marchetti said. “Everybody was helping everybody.

“I had a front row seat to the goodness of humanity.”

*Crystal Caviness is a senior public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications. She can be contacted at ccaviness@umcom.org or at 615-742-5138.