Harnessing technology for disaster response
2019 was a year full of devastating, extreme, and costly weather events—resulting in an endless string of disasters. American Red Cross will continue to support…
2019 was a year full of devastating, extreme, and costly weather events—resulting in an endless string of disasters – ranging from wildfires in California, to record-breaking floods and tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast, to hurricanes across the East Coast. While many of these disasters were not in the news for long, they upended lives, destroyed communities and put the American Red Cross in a continuous state of response. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were some 10 billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters in 2019, and on average, our organization is now responding to a new major disaster every two weeks in the U.S.
The frequency of major disasters is also on the rise, nearly tripling in the past five years. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, having been with the Red Cross since 2006. In 2014, we were initiating a major disaster response approximately every 34 days; today, we’re responding to disasters of the same or higher magnitude about every 14 days on average.
What this means is that the disaster landscape is changing, requiring us to be as effective, nimble and responsive as possible — especially during the critical post-disaster hours and days. Whether it’s a big disaster, like a hurricane or wildfire, or an “everyday disaster” like a home fire, the Red Cross needs to be ready to immediately scale to where the needs are, and directly assign our best resources to address those needs, for 60,000 disasters each year.
At the same time, we want to empower people with the knowledge and resources they need to help them prepare and be more resilient in the face of these emergencies.
I’m proud to say that today, our organization has become an industry leader in using the latest technologies to address disaster-caused needs, and we continue to constantly innovate, revolutionizing the way we approach our service delivery, and allowing for more data-driven decision-making.
A few examples include RC View – a state-of-the-art disaster management system – used by Red Cross personnel to see and disseminate real-time data about what’s happening on the ground during a disaster. This helps us deploy volunteers, staff, inventory, and vehicles where they are needed the most, as well as prioritize our most vulnerable communities. Through our Direct Financial Assistance program, we have embraced modern tools that can provide virtual assistance and multiple payment options for families impacted by large disasters. We use Digital Mapping Technologies to expedite service delivery and reconnect family members at home and abroad, and we’ve also been able to put preparedness tips in people’s pockets by developing an innovative series of emergency preparedness mobile apps, which have been downloaded more than 14 million times.
The modernization I’ve seen at our organization through these and other innovations over the past decade is tremendous, and has changed every aspect of our disaster work.
As a member of our Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP), IBM and its employees generously help power these critical resources and infrastructure that the Red Cross needs to deliver on its mission.
What I’m especially thrilled about is that we’ve been able to call upon our charitable partners, like IBM, to help us develop innovative solutions to better support the needs of people impacted by disasters.
We were pleased to join forces with IBM to support the launch of its Call for Code 2018 Global Challenge, which rallied developers to create solutions that significantly improve preparedness for natural disasters and accelerate relief when disasters hit. We continued our support in 2019, and I was honored to serve as a judge for the 2019 challenge. I was so inspired by ideas shared that could reduce the risk of disease, improve access to data and the availability of resources, and address health needs of those impacted during and after disasters. From the insightful projects driving life-saving information, to the ultimate winner Prometeo for developing health monitoring tools for our brave first responders – the impact this effort has and will make is real.
I’m truly proud of the work we’re doing to help make communities safer, but I’m even more grateful for the support we get from our generous volunteers, community partners and donors—like IBM. Supporters like IBM bring so much more than a philanthropic investment to the table, they stand alongside us to help solve big problems, which is why I am pleased to announce American Red Cross will continue to support Call for Code in 2020, and I will look forward to seeing how developers tackle climate change with their technology innovations this year.
To learn more about the Red Cross and our relief efforts around the world, please visit Redcross.org.