Emergency management infrastructures: Real-time analytics means more agile responses

Business and Technology Writer

Winter Storm Jonas dumped three feet of snow on Washington, D.C., recently, closing schools and offices for multiple days and grounding flights across the eastern seaboard. "Preliminary estimates say the economic impact of the storm may top $850 million," The Weather Channel reports. The effects of this blizzard impacted first responders' ability to reach those in need, with firefighters in one Virginia county having to drag hoses over 800 feet of snow to reach a burning home. This week we brace for the impact of Wiinter Storm Kayla.

When disasters strike, emergency management infrastructures stand poised to respond, but saving lives depends on how quickly — and how dynamically — rescuers can reach a scene and react to what they find there. Agility on the ground counts for everything. It saves lives and stops further damage to property and the power, water and transportation networks that survivors rely on to survive.

Real-time data analytics is pushing the envelope for responders, giving them more of that critical agility. Data-driven responses are offering more precise insights around the shifting and often dangerous circumstances that follow earthquakes, storms and man-made emergencies. the following examples show, technology and disaster-response expertise are converging. The outcome of that pairing promises ever-increasing improvements to how resources and life-saving assets are deployed.

Geospatial data plus analytics creates new approaches to rescue and recovery

When responders are able to combine geographical records with real-time images and in-the-moment details, they can react in more agile ways. For example, using thermal images of a wildfire, as StateScoop reports, can help save lives on both sides of a fire line in areas beset by large-scale blazes. During these events, it's crucial that responders receive evolving warnings on how heat and smoke will affect their ability to enter and exit segments of a burning territory. Analytics gives them the advantage of a larger and more complete real-time map.

Agile response to power outages improves emergency management infrastructures

Hurricane Sandy taught responders a great deal in the wake of its U.S. landfall. As Harvard University's Data-Smart City Solutions points out, smart meters on the power grid can now send a final failure signal when a point along a compromised system goes down. Using real-time analytics, computers generate instant regional maps of outages so first responders can determine the best approaches. Those working to restore power can avoid the overlap and resulting confusion that often arises when the reporting of lost electrical service depends on human observation alone.

Smart emergency management infrastructures turn to real-time social media analytics

When most people think of disaster response, they probably don't first think of social media as a key strategic component. That is changing, as Jan Husar, a crisis project manager working with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, tells TechCrunch. When a Category 5 super typhoon struck the Philippines in 2014, global hacking network Geeklist went to work building apps that allowed responders to aggregate, analyze and map available resources and those in need via hashtags and posted pleas for help. Social media has become a source of the same deep insights and patterns that responders rely upon from utility grids, satellites and other assets in the digital space.

Identifying and acting on the best approaches to disaster response will always rely, to a large extent, on emergency professionals and experts exercising their hard-earned intuition. When real-time analytics is added to that equation, however, the objective is reinforcing that human expertise with deep, algorithm-driven insights. Analytics are creating new types of actionable information about changing situations within every dangerous and time-critical scenario.

Emergency management infrastructures are becoming increasingly powerful. Real-time analytics are driving that growth, one agile and newly empowered rescue decision at a time.

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