The Digital Advantage with Natural Disasters

Natural disasters, such as the recent forest fire outbreaks in Colorado, are often thought as “Acts of God” that cannot be tamed, or avoided. The best you can do when you know a natural disaster is headed your way, like a tornado or forest fire, is stock up on supplies, prepare your home as best you can, and brace yourself for the aftermath. Yet the emergence of digital technology is making the aftermath much more tolerable then before.

56 years of tornado tracks in the U.S.

Every week it seems, we keep hearing more about how a city has filed for bankruptcy. It’s no secret that more and more communities are struggling with how they can provide services with slashed budgets. As if almost on que, the White House also recently announced a digital initiative that requires government agencies to make public services more accessible via mobile apps and more. It looks like some cities are already ahead of the game.

Communities like Accomack County, Va. And Webster County, Mo. Have been using photo-mapping to assess damage left after natural disasters. These communities have been using GPS cameras and photo-mapping software to capture information following disasters, with Accomack County utilizing it at first with Hurricane Irene. The documentation helped when applying for federal relief, allowing for the county to collect and dispense damage data to the state within 72 hours of the impact. While the GPS cameras and photo-mapping software has been helpful in the past, agencies aren’t opposed to incorporating other applications to help map out disaster recovery needs.

With the White House Digital Initiative, it’s only natural to begin to incorporate photo and geo mapping with the mobile accessibility concept so that all citizens can partake in clean-up efforts. One city that is already ahead of the curve on using mobile technology to rally citizens around environmental issues is Plano, Texas. When entering heightened water restrictions for their region, the city’s call center was bombarded with water violation reports and leaks. By encouraging citizens to submit water-related requests via their mobile app, FixItPlano, the city was able to more efficiently manage, map out and respond to requests faster than ever before to preserve the city’s valuable water supply.

As we enter into a potentially active hurricane, tornado and forest fire season in the coming months, mobile reporting and photo mapping may be vital in supporting necessary clean-up efforts. We expect this trend to continue as we see more and more communities embrace the mobile movement to rebuild their communities, and spirits following a natural disaster.

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Chris Cairns

Great write-up. These are great applications of digital tech to solve some tough problems. The last thing we need in the aftermath of a disaster is to misappropriate scarce and precious resources.