Gallery: 10 ways technology is changing disaster response
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The day of the rescue dog is over
Saving lives and finding the missing used to be a task for people on the ground and the limited technology they had available–like the rescue dog. We’re well past the need for four-legged assistance in recovering from disasters, though: We have technology to do that now.
From social media to inflatable radars, there are a lot of tech products and concepts that are being adapted for emergency response use. No need to put a barrel of brandy around that St. Bernard’s neck–let him relax and this lifesaving tech will do the job instead.
SEE: Severe weather and emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)
1. Internet-connected sensors
Harris County, home to Houston, was hit hard by hurricane Harvey. Despite being battered, Houston managed to stave off the worst, and internet-connected sensors may be partially to thank.
The Harris County Flood Warning System (FWS) gave government officials a real-time look at which sections of Houston were at greatest risk of flooding, thanks to 142 gauge stations. Each station is equipped with rainfall sensors and water level sensors that monitor the state of Houston’s creeks and bayous.
This internet of things system may well have saved countless lives.
One of the biggest challenges of a natural, or man-made, disaster is finding survivors and assessing conditions in inaccessible areas. Drones can help first responders and recovery teams find those trapped by floodwaters and debris, point out particularly dangerous areas, and provide situational awareness that those on the ground would typically have to wait for a helicopter to provide.
SEE: Drone policy (Tech Pro Research)
3. Machine learning
It’s hard for first responders to decide where to distribute resources when a disaster strikes. If an ambulance and fire truck aren’t in the right place people may die, and those with far less critical injuries may take up resources that are needed elsewhere–all because those who are injured can’t make contact with the appropriate authorities.
1Concern, founded by Stanford engineering student Ahmad Wani, is using machine learning and previously gathered data to change that. The One Concern platform uses artificial intelligence, combined with data on building construction and previous disasters, to model which areas are likely to see the most damage.
Using 1Concern, Wani hopes to make immediate disaster response faster and more effective.
SEE: Power checklist: Building your disaster recovery plan (Tech Pro Research)
4. Social media
Social media can be a huge boon to survivors, provided they still have the ability to communicate. A simple tweet can help identify someone’s location or reassure loved ones that someone’s safe. Facebook has even launched its own disaster response mapping tool to track users and help funnel first responders to areas where they’re most needed.
5. Shelter innovation
Once a disaster is over and survivors are safe, the mission shifts to trying to survive. One of the most important things to have in a post-disaster situation is shelter.
Tools like Concrete Canvas can do a lot to make shelter quick, effective, and practical. Its water-hardened concrete cloth buildings are inflated and then soaked to set them in place. The best part is that it only takes two people to do it and practically no training is required. In less than 24 hours survivors could be living in safe, long-lasting shelters.
SEE: Shelter-in-place emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)
6. Remote-activated technology
As Florida residents fled hurricane Irma, Tesla remotely removed software limiters on its vehicle engines, giving owners an extra 30-40 miles of travel time before needing a recharge.
It’s easy to criticise Tesla’s software limiting of its batteries in the first place, but let’s step back and look at the larger picture: Remote technology of this kind could be used in lots of emergency situations.
Any device with a data connection could have its abilities boosted (provided the hardware capabilities were there) to offer better support during disasters. Smartphone manufacturers could push mesh net capabilities to devices, telephone companies could allow devices to temporarily connect to competitors’ towers, and IoT manufacturers could even push warnings to devices alerting users of impending danger.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) wants to adapt blockchain technology to speed emergency response in pandemics and other public health emergencies.
Blockchain, the CDC argues, could make sharing information faster and would eliminate inter-agency red tape involved in sharing health records by standardizing on one security format.
The CDC said blockchain could be used to securely share identifying info about patients, track outbreaks, and automate complicated data entry that needs to be done quickly in emergency response situations.
SEE: IT leader’s guide to the blockchain (Tech Pro Research)
8. Finding survivors
An amazing piece of technology from NASA, called the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER), has been deployed in several emergency situations, most recently the earthquake that hit Mexico City.
FINDER can detect heartbeats through 30 feet of rubble and 20 feet of solid concrete, and it fits inside a suitcase-sized box that weighs only 20 lbs.
9. Mesh nets
When cellular services goes down, as they often do during a disaster, trapped and injured people lose the ability to communicate with first responders and other survivors. That’s why organizations like The Serval Project exist.
Using an Android app, Serval aims to put smartphones in direct contact with each other, eliminating the need for towers. It’s not a perfect solution for communication failures, and it won’t replace existing cellular networks anytime soon, but in an emergency situation, mesh nets like Serval could be the difference between life and death.
10. Reestablishing contact
Once a disaster is under control there are still needs to be addressed, like communicating with the outside world. It can take months to restore computer networks, and that’s not a luxury those trying to save lives can afford.
Enter GATR. These inflatable satellite antennas can be packed down into small cases and filled with air when emergency teams arrive at their destinations. In fact, they’re already being used to connect Puerto Rico with the outside world in the wake of hurricane Maria.
- 10 apps to help you prepare for, respond to, and recover from a natural disaster
- 6 must-have tech items for your emergency survival kit
- How to prepare your data center for natural disasters
- 3 factors to consider when choosing a mass notification system
- Why bandwidth bottlenecks during disasters may require a new routing protocol
- Storm trackers and other survival tools for mobile and desktop users (ZDNet)