‘This is what we live for’: CrowdSource Rescue mobilizes ahead of Hurricane Laura


Early Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Laura was heading toward Beaumont. That meant Matt Marchetti was too.

Marchetti, one of the founders of Crowdsource Rescue, was packing his truck to set up a central command. CrowdSource Rescue kicks into high gear during hurricanes, earthquakes and such — any “apocalypse-vibe crisis,” as Marchetti’s co-founder Nate Larson puts it. Its ragtag volunteer army shines brightest at Zero Hour, that moment in a disaster when 911 becomes overwhelmed.

The rescuers were already signing up at crowdsourcerescue.com/hurricanes. The ones who’ll bring trucks, chainsaws and boats will work wherever Laura makes landfall. Others, armed with phones or computers, could be anywhere in the country, working from home as dispatchers or calling to see whether people are okay.

Hurricane Laura, Marchetti noted, appeared to be more a wind storm than a rain storm. Wind storms move fast, wreaking utter havoc in a relatively tight band; rain storms hang around, with floodwaters creeping up inch by inch. “A flood will kill you over time,” Marchetti explained. “Wind damage will kill you quick.”

A wind storm would mean fewer boat rescues, but more roads that need to be cleared of debris, more telephone and electric outages, more families desperate to make contact with people they can’t reach.

COVID-19, of course, would complicate everything about this hurricane. Marchetti knew all about COVID: Crowdsource Rescue usually handled get-in-get-out disasters, doing sexy, adrenaline-junkie rescues. But in mid-March, Marchetti and Larson retooled it. Since then, their “COVID activation” has been delivering Houston Food Bank groceries to people at high risk of COVID. Unlike their other work, it’s not driven by adrenaline; there’s no end in sight. But the need remains high.

Compared to that slow-moving, never-ending crisis, rescuing people after a hurricane — especially a fast-moving wind hurricane — seemed almost a relief.

In fact, Marchetti sounded downright cheerful. “It’s strange,” he admitted. “The truth is, a lot of us come alive at these moments. This is what we prepare for. This is what we live for. This is exactly where God wants me to be.”

Born in Harvey

CrowdSource Rescue was born during Hurricane Harvey when Marchetti headed out in a boat, helping members of his church, Chapelwood UMC, to ferry members to dry land. They could help even more people, he thought, if only they knew who needed rescuing.

He and his best friend, Larson, write real-estate software. They’re good at map applications. So that night, in about six hours, they wrote a simple platform: one form for people who needed help; one for rescuers; and a map showing where help was needed. They added information for about 20 people and went to bed.

The floodwaters were still rising. 911 was overwhelmed.

The next morning, Larson woke to 1,300 people on the little site he’d built for church members. He watched as the number rose to 3,000. Then 7,000.

By Harvey’s end, the platform had helped coordinate the rescues of roughly 25,000 people. And CrowdSource Rescue was a thing.

The familiar rush

When Hurricane Irma roared into Florida a couple of weeks later, CrowdSource Rescue was there. And then for floods and hurricanes in Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and North Carolina. They handled the big earthquake in Mexico City.

Marchetti and Larson had found their calling. Now they watch for disasters. In the countdown to Laura’s Zero Hour, packing his truck for Beaumont, Marchetti felt the familiar rush.

“Ideally there wouldn’t be a hurricane,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a pandemic. But at least if those things have to exist, a lot of people come out to help.

“In a weird, twisted way, there’s nothing quite as beautiful as a disaster. You see people helping from all walks of life, from all demographics. This is when you see humanity its best. It’s when you see all the bravery, all the courage that we’re capable of.”

Parts of this story appeared previously in

“We are the response. How a Harvey rescuer retooled his app to feed Houston during coronavirus.”

lisa.gray@chron.com, twitter.com/LisaGray_HouTX

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