Some tech companies are increasingly adding another service to their core products, one that focuses on minimising the impact of disaster. In addition to apps and platforms that aim to monitor global crises, big brands are coordinating their efforts with governments to aid relief efforts. Innovations in this segment, at times deemed DIsasterTech, have huge potential as the frontline of a government-backed protection system against large-scale emergencies. Business transfer agents are gradually building up expertise in this segment, which is likely to expand significantly as more investments pour in.
Mobile apps and online services are increasingly coming to the forefront of disaster relief, as tech firms are seeing the potential to use their large reach to battle outbreaks of natural or manmade crises. The use of social media, mobile messaging and crowdsourcing platforms to spread information, check up on impacted loved ones or even house effected populations is filling the response gap often vacated by the government. Providing such services not only gives tech firms good PR but also entrenches them as a vital part of social and state operations in emergencies.
Social and mobile messaging provide a rapid response
Disasters can provide the largest disruptions to governments, business and the daily lives of consumers. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), over the 2000-2012 period disasters caused $1.7 trillion of damage and impacted over 2.9 billion people globally. Going forward, technology is well-placed to alleviate at least some of the fallout from disasters.
The growth of mobile communications has made connectivity more far-reaching across the globe, especially vital in emerging markets where the mobile handset is often the only means of digital access and where disasters are especially impactful.
This is enabling initiatives to reach mass populations in times of crisis::
- The UK’s state-run media giant BBC set up a public health information service for Africa through mobile messaging service WhatsApp in mid-2014, aimed at combatting a lack of accurate information about the Ebola virus;
- Social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have also helped spread facts about the impact of Ebola, thereby encouraging people to come forward with symptoms. Social media is thus aiding states and international organizations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) in road-mapping the spread and impact of diseases;
- Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Facebook built a pilot disaster message board that has led to the eventual launch of Safety Check in October 2014. The tool allows users to recognise if contacts are safe in disaster-hit areas and check on the well-being of others.
Crowdsourcing offers real-life crisis solutions
The global Internet usage base has expanded to a rate that almost all countries and regions have some level of online interaction. This offers an opportunity to receive instant feedback from major emergencies and rapidly put the online community into action.
One of the brightest examples of crowdsourced DisasterTech is the network of holiday rental site Airbnb. The company operates a disaster response service that activates global support networks inside its community of hosts when disasters strike suddenly. Temporary lodgings offered by its users provide invaluable assistance to overwhelmed states.
Crowdsourcing platforms can be utilised by both governments and private companies, such as security contractors and pharmaceutical firms, in order to assess threats and adequately combat continued risks. Online communities, whether volunteers or hired personnel, provide opportunities for organisations to improve their understanding of unpredictable situations, as well as make citizens active participants in disaster relief.
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