Emory and Georgia Tech Students team up to fight the health effects of disasters and emergencies fueled by climate change

12 teams of Emory University and Georgia Tech students competed in Disaster Hack, a hackathon competition to develop novel, practical solutions to problems caused by disasters and extreme weather. The winning students shared $10,500 in cash awards, with the first-place team earning admission to Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X Startup Launch program, where they will have a chance to take their solution to market.

Disaster Hack’s winning hack was FireForce. Developed by two undergraduates, Emory University biology major Jay Desai and Georgia Tech computer science major Deepak Ramalingam, FireForce is a wildfire early detection system that pairs inexpensive sensors with transmitters. If the sensors detect a possible fire, an alert to the FireForce server will dispatch an autonomous, camera-equipped drone to conduct a visual inspection. This allows small teams to monitor enormous areas. (Watch FireForce’s video)

“We thought of the biggest preventable disasters we could outside COVID and the thing that came to mind was wildfires,” said Desai, who has competed in 21 hackathons since the pandemic began, earning tens of thousands in prize money. “Hackathons like this are a great opportunity for students to stop doing school for a bit and try to solve real-world problems.”

“The connection between natural disasters and public health is undeniable,” said Dr. Rebecca Martin, Vice President of Global Health and director of the Emory Global Health Institute at Emory University. “Whether it’s addressing severe respiratory illnesses caused by wildfires, or hunger spawned by climate change-induced droughts, effectively preparing for and responding to public health needs means effectively responding to environmental emergencies.”

“I’m continually impressed with the craftiness of students from both schools to dig into the problems and create innovative solutions that can have real impact,” said Rahul Saxena, interim director of CREATE-X. “CREATE-X is excited to collaborate with EGHI again and offer this opportunity for students from both schools to solve real-world problems while providing a pathway to take the solutions designed and help teams bring it to the market.”

The second-place team, Angel, assembles drones from pre-existing hardware and equips them to help first responders find missing persons, detect fires, or deliver supplies.

The Angel team included Sam Cohen (Emory, Human Health and Economics), Rayan Dabbagh (Georgia Tech, Electrical and Computer Engineering), Gino Doumit (Georgia Tech, Computer Engineering), Rayan Khoury (Georgia Tech, Engineering), and Michel Maalouli (Georgia Tech, Electrical and Computer Engineering). (Watch Angel's video)

The third-place team created waitRAFT, an autonomous smart raft that, when deployed to disaster areas, distributes relief supplies to victims. The waitRAFT team include Chiara Brust (Emory, Public Health), Yuxuan Liu (Georgia Tech, Computing), Sivagami Subramanian Nambi (Georgia Tech, Computing) and Arnold Zhang (Georgia Tech, Computing, Engineering and Business). (Watch waitRAFT’s video) 

More information on Disaster Hack participants, including their videos, can be found here.

Disaster Hack is a collaboration among the Emory Global Health Institute, CREATE-X,  the Wallace Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech/Emory, The Hatchery, Emory’s Center for Innovation, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

About Emory Global Health Institute

Founded in 2006 with a mission of advancing Emory University’s efforts to improve health around the world, the Emory Global Health Institute (EGHI) has supported Emory faculty and student global health projects in close to 100 countries. The EGHI also leads externally funded programs designed to improve the health of the world’s most vulnerable populations. For more information about EGHI, visit globalhealth.emory.edu.


CREATE-X is a faculty-led, student-focused initiative to instill entrepreneurial confidence in Georgia Tech’s students. The broader goal of CREATE-X is to provide the knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences that will give Georgia Tech graduates the confidence to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and create their own future. Learn more at create-x.gatech.edu.

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