When natural disasters strike, our first instincts are to phone or text loved ones; check news and social media sites; and go online to lend support. These connections become our lifelines. In the process, mobile devices become paramount in connecting people to people and people to data.
That’s why the Internet of Everything (IoE) is so critical. In the moments immediately following a disaster popular social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter, serve as quick ways to locate loved ones. At the same time, social media allows those affected to inform multiple people at once that they are okay, with a simple tweet or post.
In a recent Forbes article titled “Everything Changes with the Internet of Everything,” Kevin Maney discusses how the Internet of Everything changes the way we respond in time of crisis. For example, the Google Person Finder (launched during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti) shows how the Internet can make a big difference during emergencies. People can access the site via mobile device or computer and enter into one of two portals to exchange information: “I’m looking for someone” or “I have information about someone.”
Similarly, a networked power grid can pinpoint outages, enabling faster trouble shooting and allowing fellow citizens to lend support (or even power strips, as seen during Superstorm Sandy) where needed. These connections bring communities back together.
We often talk about the power of IoE to connect the unconnected. For disaster recovery, that power is amplified. Through the Internet of Everything we can help expedite recovery and create a more efficient disaster-response effort by connecting processes, data, things and, most importantly, people. When that happens, we’re able to improve the human experience.
I moved down to D’Iberville, MS February of 2005. A quaint up and coming starter community just North of Biloxi, MS. I remember, while working for the State Police, taking my lunch to the end of a pier that was near by our office, sitting on the edge and looking out over the water. I enjoyed the peace, especially since it wasn’t even two years ago before that I was in Afghanistan looking forward to holding my 6 month old daughter that I spent 5 days with before deploying. I found this pretty little 4/2 split plan home less than a mile “as the crow flies” from the beach that August. It was humble, but I knew it would be a good place to start my life over. I remember watching and listening about some storm that month out in the middle of no where, thinking to myself, “I better hurry and close on that house otherwise I will not be able to get Home Owners Insurance.” Well, my house luckily enough was not in a flood zone, it was the suckers across the street, so I didn’t need to pay the extra insurance at closing. I closed August 25, 2005. Looking back, it’s funny to think how I was barely able to get all of my belongings moved into the house before I had to board up and head for higher ground. Little did I know at the time that the one night I spent in the house would be the last night. I packed an over night bag, locked the door, and left.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She bolstered swells upwards of 30ft and reeked havoc throughout the Mississippi Coast Line with her devastation physically noticed over 160 miles inland to the heart of Mississippi, Jackson. She claimed nearly 1900 lives, displaced more than 700,000 people (more than the Dust Bowl Migration of the Great Depression) and cost our country nearly $125 Billion Dollars in property damage and insurance pay outs. To this day, there are still nearly 700 missing persons from that infamous day 7 years ago.
In Mississippi alone, over 200 lives were taken, 67 missing persons, and 5 still yet to be identified. Over 65,000 homes were destroyed, including one that sat at 10229 Cottage Court Cove, D’Iberville, MS 39540, my home. My neighborhood went under 15ft of water with about 7ft sitting inside my home before residing. I remember looking through the portal of the front door, seeing the damage, the water line, the mud, everything. I didn’t even unlock the door. I did what I knew to do: Report for duty.
I reported to the Emergency Operation Center in Gulfport, MS, linked up with the Director of the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, Sam Howell, and conducted Search and Recovery efforts with the Harrison County Coroner’s Office. Search and Rescue teams would identify remains and our team would recover those remains and transport them back to the “Reefer Trucks” (Refrigerated Tractor Trailers) parked outside one of the funeral homes in Gulfport, MS. We had recovery teams mobilized throughout the Gulf Coast. My area of responsibility was Biloxi, MS.
Conditions were terrible. I slept on a slab the first night across from the EOC. Our communications were non-existent, the only service provider available was Cell South, now called C-Spire. Our collaboration across the board with mobilized agency’s from law enforcement volunteers to the MS National Guard was decayed. It was analogue and archaic. There were next to no communications capabilities while we were deployed to our AOs. Each team had to be internally self sufficient, bringing everything we needed with us that morning. Response was slow, the people were restless, and resources were coming close to depleting. We weren’t ready.
Now it’s 2012. On the eve of the Anniversary of one of the most catastrophic natural disasters of our time, Hurricane Isaac will eerily make landfall on this momentous day 7 years later. At this point, as I listen to the News from the other room, Isaac has increased to a Category I. The Army National Guard has already mobilized, the Joint Information Center (JIC) was deployed two days ago and is set up for distribution D+1. The stage is set for one of the quickest responses that the state of Mississippi has to offer with every available hand poised and ready. I myself, a Nationally Registered EMT-B, am also ready to provide assistance if need be. Now, we are ready.
In the short time I have worked for Cisco, I have been part of an amazing team that has relentlessly worked to bring attention to Cisco’s technology in order to aid and assist First Responders so that they may seamlessly do what they do best: Serve. With Cisco’s TacOps team and NERV mobile command center those who respond will have at their finger tips what they need to provide assistance to the public.
Today, we are ready.
This was difficult for me to write and share. As you finish reading this, please give a moment of silence for those that Hurricane Katrina claimed and their families.
As a small business professional you know only too well how difficult it can be to keep your company thriving, much less prepared for unexpected bumps down the road. But there are several “gotchas” that are critical to address now so if the future does contain a trapdoor, your company won’t fall through.
Here are my top five “musts” to keep your business up and running:
On March 11, when Japan suffered a one-two punch — first from an 9.0 earthquake and then a devastating tsunami — more than 1,200 tweets per minute were sent from Tokyo, according to Mashable. More recently in May, after a terrible tornado hit Joplin, Missouri with full force, killing 145, several FaceBook pages were rapidly created by citizens and their families and friends to post pictures of the missing, share news of loved ones, information about conditions on the ground, and messages about supplies, shelter and support.
Social media networks are transforming how people give and receive help and information during disasters. People aren’t waiting for direction from government and humanitarian agencies; they are turning to each other using mobile devices and social networks. In the dark world of disasters, this emerging trend is challenging old assumptions and can and will, I believe, will help focus, support and strengthen the efforts of trained first responders (both volunteer and professional) to get to where they are most needed and put their expertise to maximum use. Social media and the networks that underpin it simply allow more people to support each other.
Cisco CEO John Chambers discussed the value of secure collaboration in a networked world last week at a National Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and Homeland Security conference in San Francisco. John talked about the role the network will play in being able to securely provide relevant timely information to response agencies. He also conducted a scenario demonstration of what would happen should an emergency arise, using the upcoming America’s Cup Race in San Francisco as an example.
In the last few years, technology has proven itself to be a mobilization powerhouse for disasters. Tales from the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami abound. From the senior project manager who used Google’s People Finder tool to locate his Japanese grandfather, to the young schoolteacher who broadcast pleas for help via Twitter before the nearby nuclear plant exploded, technology has become a pivotal player in guiding relief efforts, making connections and educating people about disasters. Here are a few ways technology has proved its usefulness.
1. A tool in relief efforts
A key to successful disaster relief management is the rapid deployment of information and resources. People are often displaced and don’t know where to go or what to do. Buildings are destroyed. People missing. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Google collaborated with GeoEye to display images of destruction so organizers could identify areas in need of support. Here are some examples of those images.
Using technology to assist in disasters is not new. Cisco Systems was one of the first technology responders to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, providing mobile communication kits and networks to support the massive data infrastructure needed in relief efforts.
2. Generating support
Donations are essential in providing just in time services to those in need. The immediacy of technology makes it easy to appeal to human sentiment with immediate calls to action. Apple first added a page to its iTunes store for Haitian earthquake relief and now continues the practice for Japan. The Red Cross elicits donations through its Twitter feed and via text messages. This fundraising method garnered more than $4 million for Haiti. To amplify the efforts of the Red Cross, Mashable promoted its code snippet for blog and website owners to use in soliciting additional donations.
3. Connecting friends and family
At the time this post was written, more than 5,000 people had died and 9,500 were missing due to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Almost half a million are in shelters. Immediately following the crisis, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued a message to U.S. citizens in Japan encouraging them to contact their family and friends using SMS texting and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. According to the Poynter Institute, a journalism school and resource, the Twitter hashtags #prayforjapan and #tsunami received thousands of tweets per second and a Facebook page set up for the disaster attracted more than 3000 followers in less than 12 hours.
Website registries have been set up to connect families and friends of those in the affected areas of Japan. In an effort to better consolidate registries and provide a single point of connection, Google has launched an open source multilingual and bilingual people finder tool for Japan to serve as a directory and message board for families and friends, as it did for the earthquakes in Chile, Haiti and New Zealand, Within the first few hours of launching, the tool logged more than 4,000 records.
Videogames and simulation software are another way responders are preparing for disasters. Software companies are creating mashups that combine satellite images, maps and spreadsheet data to create disaster scenario planning tools. Depiction is one such simulation application, used to train first responders. The tool combines live data feeds to create a dynamic tool that can be used for scenario planning, resource management, and logistics. Users can create alternative rescue routes, for example, by inputting data streams into the system real-time.
Children are one target group that organizers are keen to educate. The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) argues that children are amongst the most vulnerable to disasters but also the best positioned to be trained as future leaders, architects and urban planners. In response to this need, the ISDR created a multilingual online simulation game, Stop Disasters, to teach children about how to build safer cities and villages. Players can select one of five scenarios including a tsunami, earthquake, wildfire, flood or hurricane. They are given a budget and limited time to safely house residents, build hospitals and schools, retrofit buildings, and equip those buildings with evacuation plans and early warning systems. They learn how the location and construction of housing materials can improve the outcome of a disaster and how evacuation plans can help save lives. After the disaster hits, the user is scored on their success and told how they could have better prepared.
“The Day the Earth Shook” is an earthquake preparedness game for children created by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Created by the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Center for Public Safety and Justice, the game gives children the opportunity to explore a virtual world in which they learn how to create a disaster kit, locate safe locations in a home and safety tips.
6. Building and Rebuilding
The Global Innovation Commons is a vast database of over 500,000 energy-saving technologies with expired or abandoned patents. The goal of this organization is to provide access to open source technologies for life saving energy, water and agriculture devices. The patents in the database could save more than $2 trillion in license fees combined. But like most open source models, if you use anything in the database, you are encouraged to share your story with the community. In this video, Dr. David Martin, the founder of the Global Innovation Commons, talks about the organization:
While technology can’t bring back lost lives or repair billions of dollars in destroyed homes and businesses, it has proven itself to be an indispensable resource. And while technology’s role in connecting people through social media is invaluable, I do hope we can harness its powers to diminish the tragic effects of such disasters in the future.
Do you have examples about how technology is being used to assist in disasters or educate the public on preparedness? Share your comments below.