Whatever the reason – fate, the end of the world approaching, climate change, or sheer, dumb luck – the United States has endured more deadly disasters in recent years than ever before in its recorded history. Wildfires are destroying hundreds of thousands of acres each year, earthquakes are leveling cities, and flooding is wreaking havoc across the country.
While natural disasters are inevitable, technology is making great strides in helping people predict, prepare for, and recover from such life-altering experiences. Some may be familiar to you, but others seem to be ripped from a science fiction novel. Here’s a closer look.
There’s an App for That
Emergency organizations are really stepping up their game to create effective apps that help calm the chaos before, during, and after a disaster. FEMA’s app gives real-time weather updates and provides information on emergency shelters. The American Red Cross has an “I’m Safe” button that lets you inform loved ones that you’re ok, has live-feed capabilities, and compiles ways for other people to donate or volunteer to help with disaster clean-up. Other organizations have built websites that help volunteers offer their services more easily. Crisiscleanup.org is one such website where affected persons can request aid, and volunteers can sign up to help.
This isn’t so much an electronic technology but a technological advancement. One company has developed a concrete-impregnated canvas that, when exposed to air and water, will harden into a durable structure. The interior structure is inflatable, comes with steel doors, and only takes two unskilled people four hours to set up. After the structure has been left to cure for 24 hours, it is ready to house and protect people from the elements. This is an exciting development for housing victims and relief teams in the wake of earthquakes, hurricanes, or some other natural disaster.
Social Media and Data Analytics
Social media and data analytics play an integral role in disaster situations these days. People who post on Twitter essentially create a live feed of the situation across a wide geographic area. Facebook also has this capability as well as a “Donate Now” option so people who want to help have a way to do so. These and other social media platforms have proven extremely helpful for rescuers to locate people who are trapped in their homes or businesses.
With the flood of information pouring in from social media and news platforms, various data analytics programs are able to monitor and compile information to give a real-time view of things happening in the crisis area.
Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane?
One particularly cool technological advancement that has become more commonplace in the last few years are hot air balloons or drones that provide internet to disaster-struck communities. Often, the first order of business during an emergency is to establish a command center, but the second is to provide internet. The internet lets people reach out to help others and allows survivors to report on their safety.
Drones can be kind of a touchy subject, but whether you are for or against them, they provide invaluable support during disaster scenarios. Rescuers and disaster assessors can safely gather data, images, and even map terrain without needing to brave the elements. Once things have calmed down enough that it’s safe to begin disaster-relief, drones can help with search and rescue missions by using their infrared cameras, night vision settings, and high-definition hearing capabilities to find people who need help.
Solar Lanterns and Chargers
One of the most difficult parts of emergency situations is keeping technology charged enough to communicate with others. One recent technology is an inflatable lantern that packs down into a tiny space. It is waterproof and extremely powerful, and because it is solar-powered, it doesn’t rely on outside electricity to operate. There are also solar chargers that are waterproof and have the same output as a wall outlet, so cell phones and other electronics can charge in the same amount of time as they would otherwise.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t always come in the form of the creepy robot in the movies. AI has actually come a long way in the last few years, and now scientists can use it to successfully predict tsunamis and earthquakes. With earthquakes, especially, AI can listen for low amplitude noises from within the earth to help scientists predict both location and damage level of future earthquakes.
Though it hasn’t sponsored the robotics challenge for a few years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) created a competition for scientists and engineers to build a rescue robot. These bots could navigate debris, climb stairs, turn valves, and even drive vehicles to help during emergency situations. Scientists and engineers are continually working to create robots to aid rescue efforts.
While natural disasters are mostly unavoidable, the damage and panic that they cause can be alleviated through the use of technology.