The federal government is changing the way it uses technology, moving towards more agile and distributed IT infrastructure. Some agencies have done a great job adopting emerging technology such as the Intelligence Community which has been at the forefront of federal cloud adoption. Cloud technology is evolving in a way that allows organizations to produce and store more data in a single day than they did in a full year a decade ago. That being said, other agencies are struggling to modernize, one of them being the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to a report from the Office of Inspector General, FEMA’s largest problem is IT modernization and emergency response operations are suffering as a result. Data recovery centers across the US are struggling to get networks and servers set up leading to major delays in the collection of information during disasters.
While FEMA is constrained by their budget, there are a number of innovative technologies that could be employed to streamline disaster relief efforts. Below are four of the most promising platforms that could revolutionize FEMA’s response and recovery operations.
1) Panacea’s Cloud
Panacea’s Cloud is a new tool that can help disaster relief by providing a new means of communication. It’s intended for use when there is little to no cell phone signal, and the device itself is protected by a custom waterproof and crushproof case. Clear communication signals can be set up within a range of one to two city blocks, or multiple devices can be set up to cover a broader range, a full disaster zone for example. Panacea’s Cloud provides wireless internet, a phone network, and an internet-based data storage and processing platform, so first responders can communicate with the public or other department agencies quickly and cohesively. Prasad Calyam, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the director of Cyber Education and Research Initiative at the University of Missouri, states, “This system is useful for FEMA and other federal agencies because they want to improve training and protocols for disaster relief. This device can also be used for medical triage, search and rescue, and campus safety, such as university police departments.” Panacea’s Cloud has the potential to mitigate risks caused by insufficient lines of communication, making FEMA officials better equipped to do their jobs.
2) Hurricane Dorion Web Portal
From tracking and predicting natural disasters to assisting first-responders in rescue and recovery efforts, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can assist by reducing risk and damages while also saving lives. When Hurricane Dorian hit earlier this month, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) partnered with Esri to provide geospatial support by opening up a web portal that made images, products, and mapping data publicly available for the areas affected by Hurricane Dorian. While the NGA supports humanitarian and disaster relief efforts by working directly with federal agencies, this portal expanded NGA’s reach by allowing all nonprofits and volunteers on the ground to access open source information. NGA was producing assessments of damaged infrastructure that could be accessed by the public in real time. Portals such as the one created during Hurricane Dorion can share and distribute information faster, allowing relief personnel to access the data they need to effectively respond during disasters.
Native’s mobile app has the potential to change the way organizations collect data following a natural disaster. Utilizing Native, first responders on the ground can map local assets, run surveys, and determine disaster impact in real time. The Native app is made to run in disconnected environments ensuring the rapid sharing of information whatever the location. From route and evacuation planning to the mapping of damaged infrastructure, Native provides all the tools necessary for volunteers to share valuable information. Since data collection has been one of the largest barriers for FEMA in the past few years, platforms like Native should be in high demand.
4) Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR)
The Asymmetric Operations Sector (AOS) of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) is using artificial intelligence to improve the way we prepare and respond to natural disasters through a program called Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). In response to a cry for help from FEMA during Hurricane Florence, a team of engineers and researchers at the APL designed an algorithm that could scan satellite and aerial images and detect flooding as well as important infrastructure such as communication towers, roads, bridges, buildings and other items of interest. Currently, the APL is advancing this technology with the help of the Department of Defense. They are focusing on flood segmentation, road analysis, and building damage assessments. By leveraging artificial intelligence, the researchers at Johns Hopkins are hoping to automate processes that were previously done manually. By increasing assessment efficiency, organizations using this technology will be able to respond to disasters faster and more effectively.
The opportunities for modernization within the emergency management sector are endless. There are a number of technologies in addition to those listed above that have the potential to redefine the way our government responds to disasters, all organizations like FEMA need now is the funding. Praescient Analytics is proud to support disaster relief operations, and it is our hope that in coming years we can help bring the most cutting-edge technology to response and recovery agencies. We know that by adopting technologies and artificial intelligence, first responders and the public will be better prepared for disasters.