data technology humanitarian people disaster digital disasters
4 ways technology can help us respond to disastersMore than 700,000 people died as a result of disasters between the years 2005and 2014. In 2017, the American Red Cross delivered more relief support thanit had in the previous four years combined, responding to 242 significantdisasters in the US alone.Technological innovation is bringing digital solutions to sectors that havepreviously lacked access to technology, including the non-profit community.The rapid pace of this change suggests that one of technology’s mostmeaningful benefits for society may lie in the humanitarian sector, which mustreach large numbers of people, in remote and dangerous locations, to providecritical resources fast and efficiently.From aerial robotics to big data analytics, technology presents theopportunity to expedite and magnify the impact of humanitarian relief effortsthrough greater efficiency and responsiveness; reaching more people, sooner,more cost-effectively, and saving more lives. For example:Technology can go where people cannot and where rescue efforts puts the livesof responders at riskAerial robotics, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones, showtremendous potential to transform humanitarian aid. Using this technology,organizations can map terrain more effectively, assess damage in real time,increase situational awareness through high-resolution mapping and deliveritems faster, cheaper and more efficiently. Lower in cost, lighter in weight(as little as three pounds) and quieter than helicopters or planes, with pre-programmed routes that enable them to fly in life-threatening conditions,these “digital responders” provide access to otherwise unreachable areas. Inaddition, infrared cameras and advanced listening systems enable UAVs touncover survivors from rubble or among flames and live-stream night footage,increasing the success of critical rescue efforts. For example, global non-profit WeRobotics’ programme, AidRobotics, identifieslocal humanitarian needs and incubates robotics solutions via regional FlyingLabs™. Following extensive flooding in 2017, its Peru Flying Labs formed theMision PIURA multistakeholder consortium to create high-resolution aerialimages of more than 7,000 hectares (nearly 17,300 acres) in just three days.These maps provided humanitarian agencies with a detailed understanding of theregion including infrastructure damage, locations of stranded communities,safe areas for resettlement, and efficient routes for aid delivery. Digitalelevation models enabled the government to continually monitor water levelchanges throughout the region. Technology breaks down barriers to enable connectivity when we need it most In times of disaster, basic connectivity is a form of aid that connects peopleto the resources critical for survival and enables humanitarian organizationsto quickly deliver life-saving information. Cisco’s Tactical Operations (TacOps), for example, takes advantage of thelatest mobile networking technology, including cloud-controlled Merakitechnology, to establish connectivity when disaster strikes, often faster thangovernment or local providers can. The TacOps team, comprised of highly-skilled internet infrastructure specialists and supported by a global networkof volunteers, can be ready to assist anywhere within a few days. From therefugee crisis in Uganda or Nepal’s 7.8 earthquake to Puerto Rico’s HurricaneMaria, since 2005, TacOps has responded to 45 disasters on six continents.Camp beds set up at a convention centre for people whose homes were destroyedby Hurricane Irma, in San Juan, Puerto RicoImage: REUTERS/Alvin BaezIn response to the refugee crisis alone, more than 600,000 devices haveconnected to TacOps’ networks in refugee camps across Europe. Additionally, inPuerto Rico, TacOps has brought efficiencies and speed to relief efforts withmore than 66,500 unique clients (relief organizations and the public) andnearly 46 terabytes of data transferred within two months of installation.Mobile solutions, social media and digital communities provide a new way fororganizations and their beneficiaries to communicateToday, through the proliferation of mobile and social media solutions, reliefcommunications have evolved to the benefit of all. This includes thedevelopment of a feedback loop through which information collected is appliedto develop a deeper and more real-time understanding of both sector andservice user needs, leading to faster, more efficient responses whichultimately supports beneficiaries. For example, the World Food Programme (WFP) is challenged to assist 80 millionpeople across 80 countries worldwide each year, moving three million tons offood. WFP’s Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) uses mobiletechnology to address the barrier of aggregate and manual data collection,that often leads to outdated and inefficient data collection. Deployed in morethan 30 countries, mVAM delivers 20,000 surveys per month for an annual costsaving of $5 million and a 75% reduction in the time spent collecting surveys.The WFP and Cisco partnered to explore the use of SMS and voice responsetechnology (IVR) to collect data directly from beneficiaries, making itpossible to gather responses from some of the world’s most vulnerablecommunities rapidly and in an affordable way. This year, the partnership willpilot the use of chatbots for even deeper interaction between beneficiariesand organizations.“We’re receiving information in near real-time and, for a humanitarianorganization, that helps us save lives,” says Jean Martin-Bauer, Food SecurityAnalyst for the WFP.Through mVAM, WFP now has a detailed view of the food security situation onthe ground, enabling them to respond quickly – and save lives.Big data analytics creates a new era of intelligence for disaster responseVast amounts of data are created during times of disaster including personaland medical data, the geolocation of roads, the tracking of survivors, andmore. Managing this data presents challenges, but when effectively employed,it provides crucial information on which to act, prioritizes and optimizesresponse efforts and, via crowdsourcing, enhances situational awareness.Ushahidi, for example, is an open-source crisis-mapping software that createsa database of geotagged and time-stamped reports gathered via email, SMS, ortweets. From this information, it builds a comprehensive, real-time picture ofwhat is happening on the ground. Today, Ushahidi V3, or “Ushahidi in theCloud”, can be accessed by anyone, even non-developers. The platform has beenused in 140 countries, reaching more than 20 million people through more than100,000 deployments.Additionally, the American Red Cross’ RC View, built on the ESRI datavisualization platform, informs situational awareness by providing crucialdata on water levels, shelter mapping (locations, number of available beds),road closures and more. Via RC View, Red Cross can respond faster, with fewerresources, and provide aid and financial assistance while evacuation is stilltaking place. In many cases, it allows an area to be surveyed without everhaving to step foot there. In less than two months, the Red Cross responded tomore disasters than they have in the last four years combined.In Puerto Rico, global non-profit NetHope has partnered with Facebook toprovide enhanced disaster response by effectively targeting social mediaaudiences. Complex data analytics enable the organization to target the rightmessages to the right audiences, including information from third parties suchas FEMA, Doctors Without Borders, and local non-profits.In many cases, technology is the easiest part. The challenge is to create along-term, digital foundation for humanitarian organizations that enables themto invest in, test and scale technology solutions prior to disasters so theyare prepared when they need it the most. For example, Cisco is entering afive-year, $10 million dollar partnership with MercyCorps that will reach 11million people and fill critical gaps, transforming how the already tech-savvyorganization applies digital solutions to humanitarian aid.While technology cannot replace the vital resources people need in disaster –food, water, shelter, or comfort from loved ones – it is transforming disasterrelief efforts and paving the way for an evolving approach to internationalaid: one that can reach more people, faster, and help communities to developresilience for when the next disaster strikes.Written byTae Yoo, Senior Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Corporate SocialResponsibility, CiscoThe views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not theWorld Economic Forum.