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Disaster Relief

Early warning, early action: Emerging innovations in disaster response

Technology For Early Warning Systems

  •  August 11, 2017
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In a disaster situation, the ability to detect developments and distribute information can save lives. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a more accurate method of predicting volcanic eruptions by measuring the energy moving through a volcano and comparing it with changes in the surrounding rock. According to the team, the pressure changes inside of a volcano, caused by an increased presence of magma, can result in the shrinking or bulging of the rock, eventually leading to cracks and faster seismic waves. The strong correlation between the two could give scientists a new means of predicting eruptions that have had, until now, subtle or imperceptible indicators.

Scientists from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology have also developed a system which uses infrared sensors on satellites to track heat emissions from erupting volcanoes. The data gathered over the course of nearly 20 years has allowed the researchers to create a prediction model for when eruptions will cease based on the volcanoes’ infrared pattern. If the model is accurate, scientists will be able to determine when an eruption has ended more quickly, and therefore the local governments can also reduce the time it takes to move evacuated citizens back into their homes.

Satellite technology is also being used to develop an early warning system for landslides. Researchers from Chinese and UK universities have collaborated to track and analyse several devastating landslides which occurred in China’s Sichuan Province earlier this summer. According to Zhenhong Li, Professor at Newcastle University, the information collected from satellite images can provide the team with the ability to monitor vulnerable sites and send out an early warning message if “abnormal behaviour” is detected. 

"If we can detect movement at a very early stage then in many cases it is likely we would have time put systems in place to save lives" - Zhenhong Li, Professor, Newcastle University

In the U.S., earthquakes are a major issue as more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk. According to FEMA, the annual loss from earthquakes nationwide per year is $5.3 billion, with 66 percent in California alone. Together with the state and university partners, the U.S. Geological Survey is developing the ShakeAlert which can detect earthquakes and send out an alert before the shaking starts. The technology will help prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, slow down trains and divert planes, if necessary, lowering damages or casualties. 

Scientists at Oklahoma State University and the universities of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kentucky are using unmanned aircraft system (UAS), i.e. drone technology, to better understand how tornadoes and other severe weather phenomena develop. The aim is to use new data to improve early warning systems, which can increase the advanced warning time from 14 minutes to more than an hour.

To discuss innovations in disaster preparedness and prevention, join the Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit on September 6-7 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Centre in Washington D.C. The Summit will gather industry experts who will share best practice and discuss new technology innovations aimed at enhancing disaster preparedness and risk management. Participants will also discuss practices and policies for the advancement of disaster prevention and reduction. 

Some of the 70+ expert speakers include:

  • Christopher Smith, Director of Individual Assistance, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), United Sates Department of Homeland Security
  • Akshatvishal Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant, Disaster Risk Management, World Bank
  • Mohamed Hilmi, Senior Coordinator and Technical Specialist, Shelter, Settlements, and DDR, InterAction
  • Charles Setchell, Senior, Settlements, and Hazard Mitigation Advisor, USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)
  • Adefela Adelekan, Senior Manager, Disaster Response Programme, GSMA
  • ​Richard Walden, President and Chief Executive Officer, Operation USA
  • Dr Joe Leitmann, Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist, Team Leader, Resilient Recovery and Urban Resilience, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank Group

See the full list of confirmed speakers and the Summit agenda. For all inquiries, please email Alina O’Keeffe at marketing@aidforum.org

Image Source: Jamey Jacob/Oklahoma State University; Illustration of the MARIA drone, releasing dropsondes to measure conditions within a storm

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