Natural disaster alerts: Telecommunications providers can save lives through data
My phone buzzed, as it had all day, with tornado warnings and natural disaster alerts from the weather station serving towns over an hour away. I almost ignored it, but I was glad I glanced down. A twister was headed right toward my home. The house was unscathed, but others in the area were not so lucky. The New York Times reported that this particular tornado outbreak in North Carolina killed 23 people that day, injured 130 and damaged or leveled hundreds of homes.
I often wondered if those killed or hurt didn't see the alert or didn't check the local news stations. Maybe they were visiting family and weren't local to the area. After volunteering in a shelter for weeks afterward and seeing friends head to funerals for their neighbors, I wondered if more can be done to prevent death and damage. Research says yes, and telecommunication providers already have the answer sitting on their servers in the form of data analytics.
Getting the word out before a disaster
Alerting people in the path of danger is essential, especially during disasters with short warning periods such as tornadoes, floods and tsunamis. An immediate and high-impact way telecommunications providers can help is to determine people's positions through location data, and then send mobile alerts in the form of text messages and automated calls. This is far better than messaging registered residents within the affected area. Companies can easily locate visitors along with those whose billing addresses are in another city but who live in the path, such as college students or business professionals working on location.
For events with longer lead times, such as hurricanes and blizzards, use analytics to determine which customers are in the area and provide detailed information through email or social media. Customize these messages to their location, including the expected impact, local emergency numbers and a list of essential post-emergency communication tips. Try to avoid using text alerts before the event unless there is immediate danger. This keeps the impact of text messages high. Consider also providing links to apps from the American Red Cross, or partner with specific disaster applications such as ShakeAlert, which, according to National Geographic, provides early natural disaster alerts for earthquakes. Offer these programs to customers in areas especially prone to natural disasters, like those in flat areas or along fault lines.
The earth has stopped shaking. The sun is now shining. But people are without power and shelter, and may even need rescuing. By using analytics on a variety of available data such as locations, application activity and social media posts, telecommunications providers can help coordinate recovery efforts, aggregating and delivering information to first responders. In many emergency situations, people flock to Twitter to communicate with friends and loved ones, so this can be a valuable source of information — provided that cellular service is still active. Companies can also use the same strategy as before the event, providing information customers need based on their specific location, such as directions to the nearest shelter.
Minutes can often mean the difference between life and death when it comes to finding survivors, and telecommunications providers can shave off this time by providing the global positioning satellite (GPS) coordinates of customers' phones to search and rescue teams. Tech Crunch reported that cell phone data and GPS coordinates were mapped using open source software in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. By analyzing these locations, responders could find survivors trapped under rubble or separated from their families.
Drones can also be used for recovery efforts with the help of cell phone data. According to Forbes, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland is researching how drones can find survivors by detecting data packets from mobile phones. While this research is relatively new, telecommunications companies can be on the leading edge by partnering with drone manufacturers, sharing data specifications with search and rescue operations in mind.
Telecommunications companies have the power, in the form of data, to save customers' lives, prevent damage to their property and get help to those in need after a disaster. Their customers are counting on them make a difference with data.
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