The world has seen and experienced countless disasters of varying levels of severity.
As humans with the will to live and the feeling to help, we have come out of every difficult situation with the help of our instincts and intelligence.
Technology is playing a major role in helping the affected, come out of these situations safely.
Some of these innovations involve technologies like Internet of Things, crowd sourcing technique and drones.
The major catastrophe that shook the world was in 2010 in Haiti, where an estimated three million people were affected by the earthquake.
Approximately 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial complexes were damaged.
Relief operations were coming in through air, land and sea. However, what disconnected each mode was the lack of communication as the phone and electricity lines were down.
It is ironic that the most trusted sources of communication on any normal day come to no help during such times. Once the hard phone lines go down, extreme load is levied on the mobile networks which is rendered useless after many failed attempts.
In any disaster, man-made or natural, power can get cut, servers can go offline and systems like cellular networks eventually get overloaded.
This communication outage effectively means isolation — the last thing anyone in a disaster zone wants.
Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen, a computer systems researcher at Flinders University in Australia came up with a solution that connects mobile phones and facilitates communication even when there is no network coverage.
He used “mesh networking” technique wherein messages could be relayed using node hopping until it reaches the destination.
Another brilliant technology used was Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA), a mass messaging medium that sent out safety alerts to the entire population in the Caribbean.
This application helped track the mobile phones in a particular area and send them a 140 character message alert on the situation.
Crowd sourcing information is another simple yet highly effective solution that helped the government reach the relief material to their location.
During earthquakes in Japan, people took to tweeting their location and asking for help.
Social media became very resourceful, also considering the fact that the Japanese are the third largest Twitter users.
MeshPoint, a Croatian firm designed a portable Wi-Fi and 4G mobile device that has a rugged and all-weather exterior.
This device connects upto 150 people at a time. Containing a built in battery, this device enhanced quick set up in the most inhospitable conditions.
Another noteworthy effort was made by Vodafone, who in their effort to engage large scale communication projects, devised an instant Wi-Fi hotspot pack “Instant Wi-Fi mini”.
It was a 11kg backpack that connects devices with 2G mobile network, covering a radius of 1kilometer, a six hour battery and a small solar panel to charge.
This technology was tested during the massive earthquake that hit Nepal earlier last year to set up instant communication channels with the government and the relief centers.
It is important that these solutions reach the disaster hit areas in order to get the maximum benefit out of these devices. Google unveiled its latest drone programme that will assist in air drop of aid materials on these zones.
Later, it kick started the Project Loon that will deliver internet connections to disaster zones through a network of high altitude balloons.
With these scenarios, we get to know how technology, collectively is changing the way people can reach out for help and not just collect relief materials dropped to them.
Collaborator: Shruti Balakrishnan