Good Neighbor

In fall 2020, I designed and proposed a system and application for facilitating immediate, local support between neighbors during snow emergencies, which I called Good Neighbor. The proposed system includes four parts:

  • Raspberry Pi server for hosting the backend of the communication system (“Good Neighbor” application)
  • Portable Network Kit (PNK) for offline network and local communication capabilities should the primary telecommunication system go offline 
  • Generator, to be used as backup energy for the Raspberry Pi and PNK 
  • Chat bot application (“Good Neighbor”, “Sam”)

Due to time constraints, I focused my design prototyping and testing on the chat bot application, Sam the chatbot, to determine if this intervention would be

  • easy and intuitive to use by older adults who may have less experience with new technologies
  • facilitate resilience through early preparation, and communication and mutual aid between neighbors

My design process included the following:

  • interviews with local, suburban residents
  • paper prototyping
  • co-design and role play sessions with stakeholders to understand user interaction and fine-tune copy
  • high fidelity prototyping and user testing of Sam the Chatbot using LandBot and WhatsApp

Proposed Intervention


I proposed an emergency communication system whose primary interface is an SMS-based chat bot. The system requires four key components: 

  1. Raspberry Pi computer for hosting the backend of the communication system (“Good Neighbor” application)
  2. Portable network kit (PNK) for offline network and local communication capabilities should the primary telecommunication system go offline
  3. Generator, to be used as backup energy for the Raspberry Pi and PNK 
  4. Chat bot application (“Good Neighbor”, “Sam”)

The Raspberry Pi server hosts the Good Neighbor application and its database of user information, and it runs the application processes. A PNK creates a local network within the boundary of the neighborhood (although it may be extended with routers and additional PNK units) and enables local connectivity even when the standard telecommunications systems are down. The server and PNK is housed in a volunteer home base for the neighborhood (e.g., my parents’ house, on the highest hill) with a backup generator to power these systems in the event of a power outage. This would also ensure at least one generator in the neighborhood for use by residents if needed. 

The Good Neighbor application is both an information resource and communication hub. While there is an app with, among other things, a neighborhood map, the primary interface is a chatbot named “Sam” (short for “Good Samaritan”). Good Neighbor monitors local weather data, and when a winter weather alert is issued for the area, Sam sends a text message to registered users in the neighborhood letting them know about the storm and reminding them to prepare. Residents are able to ask questions about the forecast and how to prepare for the storm, as well as request that Sam check-in (i.e., send a check-in message) to another neighbor. During the storm, Sam sends residents a check-in message, asking if they are OK. User responses are logged in Good Neighbor. If a user responds negatively or they do not respond, an alert is added to the Neighborhood Map in the Good Neighbor app, and Sam prompts another resident to call and check on the well-being of the person. Sam is also able to provide the phone numbers and contact information for emergency services. 

In the event of a power outage, monitored via the Eversource outage data, Sam also sends out a message to residents to check on their well-being and to confirm the status of the outage. Residents are prompted to check-in with each other in this situation as well. 

When, where, and who

This intervention is designed to address the needs of small, rural or wide suburban neighborhoods, primarily amongst households with older adults, people with disabilities, and people who live alone. By using a chatbot as a primary interface, users do not need to learn a new technology or interface to use Good Neighbor (assuming they are familiar with SMS texting). As a text-based system, Good Neighbor should be easily adaptable to voice. While the primary stakeholders are residents of the neighborhood, the support and resiliency of its users may also be important to their family (e.g., the grandson of a woman in the neighborhood). For some older adults, their caretakers may be a primary user of the system as well. Additional stakeholders may include the local fire department, whose support may be requested through the Good Neighbor interface. While the system is currently designed for the time period before and during a snowstorm, it could be adapted for any event or daily needs of the neighborhood. 


In addition to providing simple and accessible information about winter storm preparedness, Good Neighbor is primarily designed to facilitate communication and mutual aid amongst neighbors. A simple check-in, even from a chatbot, can be a simple tool to help emotional wellbeing during a crisis, especially for people who live alone. By providing a chatbot mediator to perform initial check-ins and prompting residents to check on each other, Good Neighbor aims to foster immediate, local support between neighbors during the coldest, darkest winter weather. 

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