Already this year we have seen an enormous number of natural catastrophes strike across the world. September saw hurricanes thrashing the Caribbean with devastating effects on the island nations, as well as bringing enormous damage to the southern parts of North America. Deadly flooding occurred in both Peru and Thailand at the start of the year, estimated to be the most severe case in either region for decades. Monsoon season has brought devastation to Mumbai and Nepal, and most recently an earthquake just outside Mexico City has toppled buildings and destroyed thousands of homes.
It has never been more apparent that humans are no match for the natural world. Any hope we have for improving our response to these events lies in developing technology which can help us predict their time, scale, and exact location better. This has already become a priority in countries where frequent environmental catastrophes have racked up a terrifying human and financial cost.
Key Areas Where Tech Can Offer Assistance in Emergencies
Governments across the world are beginning to invest in developing and improving their own disaster relief technology. Countries such as Colombia, Japan and Indonesia have taken note of the perils of the subduction zones that lie off their coastlines and are pursuing both seismic surveillance and tsunami warning systems. Yet, the scope for technological assistance is scalable: not only can it change the way we view the environment around us, better predicting environmental changes, but it can help to plan cities that withstand disasters and open communication channels even amidst power outs. Open for use by international organizations, relief agencies, or individuals, technology could help to shift control back within our reach.
City Planning and Infrastructure Support
Increasingly, the use of technology may help to assist with the production of accurate city models which can be used to predict the effect of natural disasters and a space where preventative steps can be trialed. It has been proposed that this could be of enormous value to city planners, architects, engineers, and various other professionals who play a role in managing and developing city spaces. Whether it is to create better dams, water drainage systems, or overground and underground safety shelters, a precise and detailed digital rendering of a city and its capacity to withstand various elemental factors may help to save lives, reduce damages, and make relief efforts quicker and more effective.
As more and more of the world’s population becomes resident in cities, urban spaces will be forced to expand at unprecedented rates. Using a digital strategy for managing this development in a sustainable and secure way may be our best means of safeguarding against the effects of future disasters.
Better Communications Systems
In the 21st century we have become so entirely reliant upon our mobile devices and electronics that the thought of managing a disaster without them seems untenable. Already we have seen great developments in communications technology come out of disaster response: following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, LINE was established as an instant messaging service working free of charge and accessible via a desktop computer. Within months, it became the fastest growing service in the region and today boasts more than 700 million active users worldwide. Plus, it is now cited as a messaging service to rival WhatsApp.
However, with power lines toppled and network infrastructure damaged, the chance of finding signal or even power is slim. This is where the Serval Project has been trying to offer a solution, developing a means of communicating between mobiles without a network connection.
Assistance in Rescue Efforts
One of the most immediate and life-saving uses for technology following a natural disaster can be in the search for survivors. As was recently reported from Mexico, the use of NASA’s FINDER technology has been helping to locate people trapped under rubble following the devastating earthquake. Indeed, FINDER is able to detect a heartbeat through thirty feet of rubble or twenty feet of solid concrete. With this form of radar technology receiving ongoing research and development, it is expected to continue to become more sophisticated and accurate.
As global climates continue to change and bring ever more tumultuous events, we can be sure that technology will be humanity’s best chance of preserving lives and environments. The extent yet to which it can offer solutions is still being found out, but already enormous developments have been made; and with them, untold numbers of lives saved.