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Mapping the Impact of Natural Disasters

How do you visualise natural disasters in real-time? This was the challenge for our team who were inspired to use technology to save lives. Building a Digital Impact Map to monitor different locations and users, track different hazards and ensure our system is as robust as the disasters it's facing.

Mapping the Impact of Natural Disasters

What inspired my Innovation Time project?

As part of my Innovation Time, I decided to spend my week creating a digital impact map. I was inspired after seeing the devastation caused by hurricane Harvey, I knew I could use my technical knowhow having collaborated with The GDPC to develop a suite of disaster preparedness apps that people used to prepare for and recover from tropical storms.

By front-end developer Kevin Borrill.

How could I use my Tech For Good?

Our disaster preparedness apps are used all around the globe by millions of people and track thousands of natural hazards. This gives us an incredible amount of data. I was driven to create a method to visualise the effects these disasters are having on communities.

To do this I wanted to develop a map that visualises our emergency alerts in real-time. The key to this was displaying the impact in an engaging and intuitive way that needed no technical-knowledge to understand.

The Problem?

Our Hazards platform relies on our custom built Emergency Alerts API. This pulls in data from various disaster-feeds to let the system send targeted and informed push-notifications based on different locations, dangers and user-preferences.

I believed that all the information from this API wasn’t being used to its full potential, and being a lover of data dashboards and easy to understand designs, I wanted to create a more user-centric visualisation that can benefit everyone involved in disaster management, preparedness and prevention.

Digital Impact Mapping Disasters

The Solution.

I developed a Digital Impact Map which utilises the backbone of our Alerts API to track the push-notifications we send from Cube HQ to users all around the world.

To make this data easily-digestible I displayed different types of disasters, locations and specific dangers or hazards by colour coding, using the size of elements as an indicator of severity, creating alert clusters and an interface which can be easily explored and interacted with.

What Does The Map Do?

Mapping Natural Disasters

The map allows you to take a quick glance at locations all around the world to see which alerts are being sent where, which natural disasters are in effect at this very moment and which specific dangers communities in these areas are up against.

Tracking Specific Hazards

Providing individual alert information, based on factors such as the type of disaster (earthquakes & hurricanes), as well as the specific dangers its causing (flooding, power outages etc.), using a simple key to differentiate between alerts on the map.

Visualising the Impact on Communities

The Impact Map displays alerts in clusters that change their appearance based on the number of alerts being sent to that area and the severity of the disaster in that location, meaning that there’s an easy and intuitive way to find out which areas are being impacted the most at any given point in time.

Monitoring Locations

Whenever our system sends an alert to a user, the map will be able to track it. Creating a boundary on the map around the area being affected by that specific hazard. These borders change and move around the globe along with the natural disaster it's tracking, as our system reaches more users and gains data to refer to.

The Digital Impact Map runs on the backbone of our Alerts API, which accesses data from a range of disaster-feeds all around the world.

A visualisation of the Digital Impact of Hurricane Harvey. Our emergency alerts system received over 75 million server-requests, with over 5,500 per minute at the peak of the storms.

Using Data Visualisation in Your Organisation:

Data visualisation can be a great way to convey information and statistics in an interface that non-technical users can understand, opening the doors for organisations to reach more audiences and convey messages in a far more engaging and compelling way.

From my experience working on this data platform, my tops tip are to work out which information is of most importance and value, what will engage your users and how your platform will benefit people, if like with hurricanes, you data is timely and urgent in saving lives.

If you want to hear more or chat about data visualisation, get in touch with Kev.

How else could the Digital Impact Map save lives?

Managing & mobilising disaster response:

Disaster management organisations such as the American Red Cross face a similar challenge when it comes to responding to disasters; being that with so many relief-workers, volunteers and resources, it’s often tricky to distribute these efficiently. A visualisation of these natural disasters could mean that organisations know which areas need the most support, what they need in-particular and how many people should be sent out to help them.

Fundraising for disaster aid & relief efforts:

Another huge opportunity for the Digital Impact Map is actually appealing to the general public and supporters of disaster management organisations and charities. A visualisation of the impact these disasters are having would be a sure way to generate support through a new, engaging and informative platform, one which acts as a real-time visualisation rather than just individual warnings, broadcasts and messages.

Work out which information is important to you, what your users will engage with, and what will be of most benefit to people.

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