Hurricane Season and the Dawn of the Technological Response

The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico have recently faced trial after trial with the arrival of three hurricanes into this region. As Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas and Louisiana, the states faced approximately 27 trillion gallons of water from ocean storm surges and heavy rainfall. Harvey claimed the lives of 47 people in the Gulf states, and left approximately $190 billion USD in damages in its wake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was deployed to the Gulf to begin relief efforts, when Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Caribbean and looked towards Florida as its next point of contact.

As the Caribbean faced Hurricane Irma as a formidable category 5 storm, Florida braced itself for immense damage. A slight derailment from the expected route of the storm allowed much of mainland Florida to be spared from irreparable damage, but left immense destruction in Cuba and the Florida Keys. In total, 54 lives were lost and damages are estimated at $100 billion USD across the entire path of the storm.

The news of a new storm – Hurricane Jose, gaining speed and power in the Atlantic, spiked fears amongst those who had experienced Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The storm remained further out in the Atlantic Ocean, bringing in rainfall, rip currents and minor flooding to states along the eastern seaboard, but neglecting to deliver mass destruction

With these formidable storms came a new response to natural disasters: technology. Apps became a way to facilitate emergency procedures during periods of evacuation and rescue. Uber and Lyft capped fares to ease evacuation efforts, and Airbnb encouraged hosts to open up their homes for free  to those seeking shelter. Zello, an app that allows users to use their smartphone as a walkie-talkie, allowed a quicker dissemination of conditions and rescue efforts to first responders and those caught in the storm. The sheer amount of users across these platforms far outstripped the resources of traditional means, such as emergency communication networks and hotels.

Data collection was utilised during this period to predict storm paths, and coordinate relief operations. The larger amounts of data from past natural disasters allowed meteorologists and first responders to predict outcomes, respond in a timely manner, and minimise loss of life. While Hurricane Harvey exceeded Hurricane Katrina’s cost of $160 billion USD, the death rate from the storm was curbed by knowledge of past events and the ability to plan responses based on past data.

Earlier this month, the Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit took place in Washington D.C. gathering almost 300 humanitarian and development professionals from government, UN organisations, NGOs, Red Cross and businesses. The Aid & International Development Forum (AIDF) team expressed their sincere thanks to those that joined the summit. Despite shifting priorities of many humanitarian and development professionals who were not able to make it to the event in the efforts to reduce the suffering and effects of natural disaster in Texas and Florida, positive feedback from attendees highlights that the event inspired partnerships, innovation and cross-industry collaboration for aid and development programmes in the US and worldwide.  

For more information about Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit, visit http://disaster-relief.aidforum.org 

Image source: 106.5 The Arch

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