Disaster Relief Technology

From floods to fires, natural disasters occur everywhere and are devastating. In 2018 alone, the United States has experienced hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires and floods. Other parts of the world weathered earthquakes, monsoons and volcanic eruptions. Each time disaster strikes, lives are in jeopardy and property is damaged. It can take years for communities to recover and the cost is shockingly high. This all sounds disheartening, but the good news is that scientists are currently developing a wide range of new technologies to assist in disaster relief.

Mobile phones are a vital source of information and communication. A number of new apps and services were recently introduced. For example, the Serval Project is currently working towards developing technology that would allow cellular phones to contact each other through the Wi-Fi interface in the absence of cell service. The Zello app, billed as a “digital walkie-talkie,” allows you to contact individuals by connecting to Wi-Fi or a cell network and joining a particular channel. You can then record a voice message stating your location and emergency, listen to weather updates, and request shelter. During the hurricanes that struck the United States this year, Zello was instrumental in providing real time updates when people lost electricity.  The Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) is an SMS text system that connects disaster-affected individuals and relief agencies.

Sometimes the relief agencies themselves release apps as a service to the public. The ICE Medical Standard App allows you to display emergency medical contact information on your phone’s lock screen so that emergency responders can easily access it. The American Red Cross released an app called First Aid which provides basic first aid instructions. The government agency FEMA created an app which shares information about disaster preparedness with the public. Social media apps allow individuals to easily share locational data with a wide group of people.

Outside of the world of cell phones, sophisticated technology including digital mapping & location tracking allow for greater precision in locating injured victims needing rescue. In response to the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, NASA developed a tool that is able to detect the sound of a human heartbeat, even through 20 feet of concrete. Emergency responders have begun to employ drones to provide an aerial view of hard-to-access locations. Robots can be used to deliver much-needed supplies.

Other important innovations involve the prediction of natural disasters. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, scientists are developing a machine learning algorithm that they hope will predict earthquakes. At the University of Cambridge, researchers simulated earthquakes and then analyzed the data. They discovered a new acoustical cue which may precede earthquakes, allowing for better predictions. In addition, a new algorithm can predict the areas at greatest risk of damage during an earthquake by analyzing factors such as building structure and historical earthquake damage data.

Advances in these types of technologies are crucial in saving lives and the importance of their development can’t be understated.

About the Author: Claire Means

Claire is a Database Development Specialist at Extract Systems. She started at the company as a document verifier, which gives her a unique understanding of the redaction software. Her attention to detail and high rate of accuracy prove her dedication to Extract’s success. Claire holds a certificate in Web Design from Madison College and her special interests include web analytics and search engine optimization.