Technology Plays an Increasing Role in Emergency Management

Cloud computing has come a long way in the past few years, and is now being used to great effect in a wide span of industries.  The emergency management community is finding that cloud computing is changing the way they both prepare for disasters and respond to them.  The cloud is making it much easier to inform citizens of disasters, as well as letting them know how they can help.  Agile IT is proud to be a part of such an important and growing industry.

San Antonio Emergency Operations Center. Credit: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

This article excerpt, by Eric Holdeman, originally appeared here:

Technology is beginning to dominate many aspects of the emergency management profession. This is particularly evident during disaster response. Today we have a number of large technology companies that offer their software or services for larger scale disasters. Chief technology officer for Microsoft Disaster Response, Tony Surma, answered questions about technology’s use in emergency management.

Surma is responsible for the worldwide team and program at Microsoft focused on delivering technologies and technical assistance to communities, responders and customers both in response to natural disasters and in support of proactive resiliency efforts. Surma answered the following questions in writing.

Where do you see technology being used today to advance the different missions of the emergency management community?

The role of technology in emergency management is to connect, inform and ultimately save the lives of those impacted by disasters. Technology restores connectivity to impacted areas so that governments can communicate with citizens and people can find their loved ones. Technology enables responders to coordinate rescue missions and work efficiently from the minute they arrive in a disaster zone, and helps businesses recover so communities can begin to rebuild faster. Lastly, after and in between incidents, technology helps us analyze, track and study natural disasters so that we can always be learning and developing better solutions — and prepare to save more lives.

How is the cloud impacting emergency management?

The cloud has been transformational for preparation and management of disaster responses. Disasters can knock out or overload local infrastructure, making access to data and communication systems nearly impossible. The cloud works around this challenge because data is stored and kept accessible far from the disaster zone. The cloud can also be quickly scaled depending on traffic and volume, so local agencies’ online presence after a disaster is secure from outages. For example, we help nonprofits and local agencies use the Microsoft cloud, Azure, with our ReadyReach portal solution, which allows sharing logistics quickly and broadcasting information to citizens, as well as informing those outside the disaster zone about ways they can help.

What role do you see big data playing in the future in regard to emergencies and disasters?

As greater volumes of data are generated and gathered during disaster response efforts, there is greater opportunity for research, analysis and visionary ways to build upon key lessons learned. As we are increasingly able to collect and extract more detailed assessments, we can proactively act before the next disaster. Working with our industry partners to build effective and collaborative ways to mine data, including social media, both during disasters and afterward is an important focus for us.

What is the future for information management during disaster response?

With the progressive, real-time open sharing of data during disasters, we expect to see a shift and rewiring of how disaster response is managed. Today we have phone calls, situation reports that come a day later, and a variety of data sources we rely upon to make critical decisions. An analogy I often use is the stock market. Think about an old-world model where you found out a stock’s price a day later in the newspaper compared to today’s integrated, immediate access that delivers the data needed to make important decisions nearly simultaneously to all involved. I see the future of disaster response similarly, that there will be a transformation in the way agencies exchange critical data in an open and real-time manner and make it available to people whose livelihood — and lives — rely upon it.

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