How Tech Can Save Lives After A Natural Disaster


Most of us do everything within our control to keep ourselves and our families and friends safe. We follow traffic laws, we lock our doors, and we avoid stepping on cracks — lest we break our mothers’ respective backs. But even with all of that, we can’t control nature (as much as we have tried to attain some sort of X-Men like manipulation of the weather). So storms hit, earthquakes come, volcanoes erupt, and none of that stuff can be prevented. It is out of our control, which can be a bit stressful to think about — how one moment your life could feel perfect, and in the next, everything around you in ruin.

What we can control is our preparedness in the case of such disasters. We can keep our home earthquake kits stocked, we can come up with plans and we can support the technology that is rising to meet the demands of keeping people safe through extreme conditions or breakdowns of current infrastructure. Because in recent years, there has been an explosion of newly available resources in tech with the potential to save many lives during a disaster.

From what we can download on our phones to robots that can be first responders (keeping human emergency personnel safer and freer to do more nuanced tasks) the technology available to predict and assist in disasters is rapidly reducing the number of deaths and damages caused by mother nature. Which is a good thing given that 2017 was a record year for disasters, costing the United States a record 306 billion dollars in damage and the loss of thousands of lives. And with an increasing number of (and severity of) storms in the last few years, we need all of the advantages technology can give us.

These are some of the new advances in tech that are saving lives in emergencies:

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Drones can get life-saving supplies into hard to reach places.

When roads are inaccessible (or people are trapped in difficult to reach situations), drones have become crucial in getting much-needed relief to victims. Drones can deliver medication, food, water, and provide intel on victims. Some even have devices like defibrillators which can get immediate medical care to those in dire situations — where every second counts in order to prevent brain damage or death. And getting supplies like antibiotics to people earlier when wounds have become infected in unsanitary conditions can be the difference between keeping or losing a limb. Drones can even deliver blood to those badly hurt. The can go where emergency workers can’t always immediately and that saves lives.

Furthermore, drones can give aerial views of damage, survivors, and be equipped with sensors that can get real-time data to those trying to make rescue and recovery plans.

Apps prepare, direct, and connect us better during a disaster.

It truly feels like soon we’ll be able to get anything from our phones. Like we’ll be able to reach into the screen and pull out a roll of bandages like the TV chocolate bar in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We’re not quite there exactly, but in a disaster scenario, your phone could still be your best friend.

For instance, in the event that you are unconscious or unable to communicate, an app can keep emergency details on your home screen — medications you’re on, allergies, basic health stats, and emergency contacts. Or the Google Trusted Contacts app will allow you to have a few trusted (non-nosey) friends or family always be able to track our GPS location in case of emergency. If you go missing, they’ll only have to click through a screen to get your location to emergency personnel.

And apps are a great way to get your information quickly and efficiently. The Red Cross has apps that provide first aid advice, can direct you to the nearest hospitals, and will give you updates on whatever situation is unfolding in your city in real time and the FEMA app will help you find shelters and give you safety tips when evacuating.

If you’re concerned about cell service going down, an app called Zello will turn your phone into a two-way radio to connect to family members. Plus, there are multiple map apps in which you can download the GPS data directly to your phone. That way you’re not relying on a mobile grid if you need to navigate out of a dangerous situation.

Yosh Ginsu Via Unsplash

Crowdsourcing can mobilize volunteers, supplies, and funds more effectively.

Crowdsourcing can be an annoying thing utilized a little too often these days. “No, I don’t want to give you money to finally see Hamilton because you’re ‘sad your cat died,’ Martin. WE ALL WANT TO SEE HAMILTON.” But, crowdsourcing can also be an incredibly useful tool after a natural disaster. It makes it easy to direct your money to an aid organization or to figure out how to drop off supplies at the appropriate place.

A new platform, Crowdsource Rescue, is actually directing relief workers into the areas and to the people that need it most. Crowdsource Rescue says they’re like the rideshare company for disasters. Basically, people can report the locations of loved ones that are missing or reach out themselves if they need help or are stuck, and then volunteers can be deployed to check on them. So far, it’s been proven pretty successful. After recent Hurricane Michael, the company says they checked on 2,500 people — making it a much-needed and accessible way to find people more quickly (thus reducing the chance that they will go without the medical care or supplies they need).

AI can predict the severity of disasters and allow for better preparation.

Artificial intelligence can be a vital source of information and extremely helpful in the event of a natural disaster. The technology can, for instance, predict the parts of an electrical grid most vulnerable while looking at the data of where a storm is most likely to hit. This ensures that: A) More technicians can be deployed to that area, or B) that they can strengthen or prevent weak areas before it’s too late. IBM’s version is said to be 70 percent accurate in predicting these vulnerabilities as far as 72 hours before a storm hits.

And because of AI’s ability to process and combine large amounts of data intelligently, it can potentially look at untraditional datasets and combine them like Tweets and Facebook posts, large amounts of weather data, and tap into sensors and satellites to get a bigger picture of what’s happening. With that kind of info, it’s easier to come up with the best and most effective ways to help prevent damage and conduct rescues. Being able to evacuate sooner, get to problem areas quicker, and strengthen infrastructure earlier could make AI one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight to keep people safer in natural disasters.

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