Every year there are about 354 natural disasters globally, and of those disasters, about 210 million people are affected. Which is just a staggering number! Made even more so by the fact that an average of 68,000 people lose their lives in disasters every single year.
That number is heartbreaking in itself, but the good news is, that number is reducing! Throughout history, statistics show that number has been steadily decreasing in the last century. It’s no coincidence that is happening the same time that technology is advancing. We can’t stop these high impact, low-frequency events from happening, but we can minimise the number of people that lose their lives because of them.
We delve into the three specific areas of disaster management and looked at some examples of technology and how it is being used in those phases, and they are:
Virtual reality is a great tool for this. No means a new form of technology, but in the world of disaster preparedness, it is being utilised to educate and prepare people to cope with a natural disaster. Whether it be an earthquake, flood, hurricane or tornado, this is being used to train people for those eventualities.
Several federal agencies, including The New York City Office of Emergency Management, have a very cool virtual reality program underway where they put participants in a simulated New York City and have them navigate a natural disaster, watch the decisions that are made throughout and can then monitor and train so they know exactly what to do in the event of a natural disaster.
With disaster management, it’s the kind of thing where you don’t exactly want people training on the job, but rather have them educated and well equipped to thrive in any circumstance! Virtual reality is such a great way for people to prepare and learn skills for something that has yet to happen.
Drones can be used in so many extremely useful ways in response to a disaster. They can be deployed quicker than a manned vehicle and without the risk of sending people into an unsafe situation. They can assess a crisis so the optimal course of action can be quickly decided, and also deliver aid to hard-hit areas. The ability to get food and water to those who desperately need it is invaluable!
Interestingly, they can use tools to map an area and get a read on exactly what is happening so that people on the ground can get life-saving information on the unpredictable and threatening situation as it unfolds. The use of drone technology is key when it comes to response.
Some work that we have been able to do in this area, is providing a suite of apps for The American Red Cross to help mitigate the effects of disasters. One of the key ones we worked on is the Hurricane App. As we have all seen year after year, hurricane season can be brutal, the devastation and lives lost is just unimaginable.
So, what we have done with the app is to give people a tool to be alerted and kept safe. Based on what we have seen from the number of people that have downloaded and use the app, there is just a huge need for this kind of technology. This year alone, 163 million alerts were sent out throughout hurricane season!
The way that it works, is that when a hurricane is due to hit, the app will alert the user that there is a potential danger, and The Red Cross can inform them exactly what they need to do to stay safe. It happens instantaneously and contextually to where the person is at that given moment. Hurricane’s are unpredictable, and this allows for the applicable information to be at someone’s fingertips in the face of uncertainty.
A challenge that we came across was making sure this technology was accessible to the older generation, or people not very technically inclined. This is where utilising the voice feature came into play. If there are warnings or alerts, they will all come directly from the speaker unit. It’s still in its infancy, but we are excited to see what this addition brings to the app!
Keeping people safe and informed of the constantly evolving threat, and where to access that valuable emergency aid, if needed, is the biggest impact we could hope to make.
Not an example that you think would immediately come to mind, but Facebook, when they rolled out their “I am safe” feature in 2015, over 7 million people used it in the wake of the Nepal earthquake. It has been really interesting to see these tech giants crowdsourcing information and using it in the event of a disaster.
Google did something similar when they launched the Person Finder. You could types someone’s name in and see if they had been reported as safe, or missing. It was a very efficient way of enabling people to track down loved ones.
This is so important because unlike disasters in decades past, where survivors had to wait days or weeks for any information, they can now use technology to quickly get their bearings on the situation.
It is very easy to prepare the prepared, but that isn’t enough. We want people to have access to and utilize this key information before disaster comes knocking at their door! Even if this event just made a few more people aware of how vitally important preparedness is, then my job is done!
If you missed this event, don’t worry, another one is right around the corner! My lovely UK colleagues are going to be looking at 2021 next week and discussing how we can build back better from the learnings of this wild year!