Buoy is a software-based communication tool used for improving community responses to distressing situations that affect one or more community members. It is built from the ground up to provide individuals and community organizations with an alternative to State- and corporate-run emergency response infrastructures, such as making a 112 or 911 phone call in Europe or the Sates. It offers a flexible and customizable, intake, dispatch, and field support toolkit for coordinating collective action in the event of crises, whether large or small.
Using a smartphone or laptop computer, a community member can assemble one or more crisis support Teams, alert their support Team(s) of where they are and what they need by pressing a single button, and communicate in real-time with their support Team. Importantly, Team members can also coordinate with one another, independent of any communication from the person in crisis.
Buoy is developed by a growing group of anti-capitalist, anti-racist, prison abolitionists calling themselves the Better Angels. We formed in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States, but are more inspired by movements of militant resistance against capitalist and nationalist domination such as the Zapatistas, and Rojavan Kurds abroad, and Black Lives Matter evictions of police occupation domestically.
Many people are engaged in parallel efforts to both abolish racist systems of social control such as police and simultaneously supplant them with new systems and structures that genuinely serve a community’s needs. As technologists, we recognize that technological advancement amplifies all existing power, which is why we focus technical development efforts to support pre-existing activist and community organization processes, rather than imposing new protocols or procedures. This also means we recognize that Buoy is useless for an individual without a pre-existing social support group, whether that be a Church group, family, or activist collective willing to use the tools together.
For this reason, Buoy is built so that it can be easily added to an existing community’s social service infrastructure. Rather than embarking on creating new services, caregiving groups can add Buoy as a layer atop their existing websites. So Buoy is not a traditional “app” that users download in the app store, but rather a means of adding crisis response, emergency dispatch, and coordination tools to the repertoire of any organization already providing caregiving support to their membership.
Inherent in this design is a decentralized architecture that more closely mirrors the way real-life social networks and grassroots organizations are dispersed. On a technological level, it’s also a practical return to the earlier days of the Internet before massive, centralized corporate services dominated the landscape of cyberspace. Nevertheless, Buoy makes use of state of the art mobile technology to provide highly accurate GPS-enabled mapping, live video, and other real-time communication tools that in many cases far exceed the meager capabilities of traditional State-run “First Responder” services. And we do it using strictly free software that adds no additional burden to a group’s budget.
Experience has demonstrated that there already exist a vast array of functioning alternatives to State-run care giving institutions and crisis response services. Moreover, for the vast majority of issues that people rely on State-run emergency services for, the State’s responses do more harm than good. In contrast, community-run services staffed by the friends and peers of people in need provide a quality of care far superior to the level of care provided by similarly-tasked State or corporate employees. This is most obvious in the case of calling 911 in the United States for issues such as “noise disturbances,” which too often end in the murder of a marginalized person at the hands of a police officer.
Ending such horrors requires, in part, providing ubiquitous access to equally-usable alternatives to existing corporate-State partnerships. Much of this alternative infrastructure already exists in certain areas, in the form of community health clinics and volunteer collectives. But one piece these groups are still missing is the technical “last mile” that connects community members in need with the resources that their community’s already-existing volunteer services provide when and where they need it.
That’s where Buoy fits in.