Technology for Resilience: The Humanitarian Application of Emerging Technologies in Disaster Management

Flood Pic

The COBACORE project recently informed an expert workshop in Dublin on the 3rd November 2014, which explored how urban resilience can be further strengthened with the aid of promising technological solutions (http://tech4resilience.blogspot.ie). This collaborative initiative between the Irish Red Cross, American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, forms part of a wider global dialogue on emerging technology for emerging needs. This workshop series seeks to harness humanitarian, technology, government, academic and business expertise in order to collaboratively explore, inform and adapt emerging solutions to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable urban communities in times of disaster.

Technology is recognised as an important mechanism to address vulnerability and to strengthen the resilience of communities – challenging the traditional top-down model of humanitarian action. In COBACORE, technology has been recognised as an important enabler of community participation, empowerment and self-mobilisation throughout the disaster management cycle. However, there still exists a great opportunity to further harness the power of technology-based solutions to improve and expand a community’s ability to prepare for, respond and recover from disaster. In initiating this two-year collaborative technology initiative, the Red Cross is taking a proactive approach to shaping the humanitarian application of a number of promising emerging technological and consumer tools including: 3D Printing; Biometrics; Robots; Environmental Sensors; Smart Homes, Cars and Appliances; Wearable Technology; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; and Augmented Reality.

COBACORE (http://cobacore.eu/) seeks to provide a central communication platform to enable the affected, responding and professional disaster-impacted communities to collaborate, match their needs and capacities, and to also provide a detailed spatial and situational overview of current activities. In this way, COBACORE acts as a central conduit for all disaster management activity, and provides end-users with an up-to-date overview of the dynamics of the disaster response in their locality, facilitating evidence-based action and resource allocation. In this way, COBACORE can positively relate to ‘Augmented Reality’ technology – with significant humanitarian application potential in the disaster management cycle. ‘Augmented Reality’ is defined by the Red Cross as “A technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view” which is hosted on platforms such as head-mounted eyewear, mobile devices and computers.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Real-time situational awareness for resource planning in disaster management
The humanitarian application of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in disaster response and recovery scenarios was recently explored by Dr. William Hynes of FAC at the 08th Irish Earth Observation Symposium at National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM), which took place on Friday 31st October 2014 (http://ieos2014.com/). The Symposium was well attended by Irish and European organisations, and was specifically focusing this year on the greater interest in Earth Observation (EO) and how it can help us manage global scale challenges and support sustainable management of our natural resources, maintain essential services, safeguard critical infrastructure and protect our environment.

William’s presentation explored real-time situational awareness for resource planning in disaster response and recovery, and discussed a range of applicable European projects, emergency management and disaster-recovery research initiatives which could potentially benefit from the application of drones or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). Indeed, a project with direct synergies to COBACORE and to which FAC is a partner, S-HELP (Securing Health Emergency Learning and Planning), a people, process and technological solution to emergency situations, featured within the presentation and discussion, not least regarding the project’s development of the Airborne Signal/satellite Utility Relay, Autonomous (ASURA) concept. ASURA is an open-source drone based communications solution that combines a satellite communications solution with an airborne wireless relay to provide reliable communications over a large area.

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Community Testing and Validation of Emerging Technologies in Disaster Management

The COBACORE project was also recently disseminated at a related Irish Red Cross community workshop in Cork, Ireland (1st November 2014), which focused upon the humanitarian application of emerging technologies during localised disaster events. This event formed part of the aforementioned ‘global dialogue’ series and focused on improving and expanding a community’s ability to prepare for, prevent and cope with natural disaster events, such as flooding, which is very prevalent in the Cork area. The workshop, which was attended by a range of participants including home and business owners, academics and professional responders, sought to work with community stakeholders to test and validate the use and value of new ‘consumer’ technological solutions directly accessible to individuals during crisis situations. There was general consensus amongst the group that ‘Wearable Technology’, with the ability to send and receive information, was the most realistic and accessible personal or consumer-aid in the short-term.

In exploring the possibilities that emerging technologies offer for community resilience in the disaster and emergency management domain, both events also inevitably focused upon the limitations of such tools, including increased reliance on a properly functioning wireless communication network. In particular lines of communication must be maintained between the disaster site and the disaster management centre to enable full situational awareness and to inform future decision support. However the nature and extent of certain disasters dictates that ground-based mobile communication networks may not be available to support such systems. Community members also highlighted valid concerns in relation to the violation of personal and collective security arising from the use of many of the emerging technologies, such as Biometrics and Augmented Reality, in addition to issues in relation to the mismatch between the emerging consumer technologies and the age profiles and technological skills of vulnerability community members in times of disaster.

Emma Gosnell

Planning and Research Analyst,

Future Analytics Consulting Ltd. (FAC)