Technology for Disaster Risk Reduction

The Indonesian island of Lombok has been shaken by two strong earthquakes, after weeks of tremors that have killed hundreds of people. A magnitude 6.3 quake killed one person and wrecked homes near the town of Belanting on Sunday. It was felt in the east of the island, triggering landslides and sending people fleeing into the streets.

Officials later reported a 7.0 tremor in the same area. There is no word on any casualties in that quake. The biggest quake in recent weeks – of 6.9 magnitude – killed more than 460 people on 5 August. It levelled homes, mosques and businesses, displacing hundreds of thousands, including many tourists. In the first in the series, on 29 July, a 6.4 magnitude quake trigged landslides in the mountain region of the island and killed at least 16 people.

In what seems like a constant string of natural disasters, information and the dissemination of information are key. Rapid technological advancements in a number of fields mean both emergency response crews and survivors are better equipped at tackling the immediate challenges faced during a natural disaster.

Quelling the quake

When a fault line slips or ruptures, seismic waves are emitted through the ground, creating an earthquake. Primary waves make the ground shake back and forth. Secondary waves cause it to churn up and down. What’s more, seismic waves need something to pass through — like buildings and city infrastructure.

What if technology could not only predict the magnitude of an earthquake, but also stop it in its tracks? Well, it’s not as big a what-if as you might think — and it’s actually been in the works for a few years already.

You’ve likely heard of shock absorbers on your car’s suspension, which slow the unwanted jolting of an uneven road. This technology has helped make buildings resistant to earthquakes, and now it might help reduce the effects of the earthquake itself.

In 2014, a team of researchers in France set out to test this idea. In a very controlled setting, they drilled holes in the ground — of specific size and spacing — to reflect the vibratory motions of ground movement. What they found was that the intensity of seismic waves dropped significantly in areas where holes were drilled.

To be sure, the experiment was limited to predictable conditions, and what makes earthquakes so unsettling is that they’re inherently unpredictable. Even so, their experiment — and several others like it — demonstrated that seismic dampening is possible with the right technology.

For now, the best emergency management plan means monitoring and preparedness. As environmental models and IoT sensors advance — and with them, predictive modeling — we’ll not only know earlier when a disaster will strike, but also the preciseness of its impact. The result? More saved lives and life going back to normal as quickly as possible.

Saving homes from wildfires

Parched neighborhoods make perfect kindling for a wildfire, but smart sprinklers may prove effective in fending them off. Back in 2015, for example, an Australian man activated his sprinklers with his smartphone before a wildfire nearly swallowed his ranch.

It’s amazing that he was able to save his home from the palm of his hand, but he was only able to because he was alerted of the fire by friends and family. That said, what if a smart irrigation system could respond automatically when it detects, say, rising temperatures?

That’s what one engineer asked in the wake of the North Bay Fires, noting that installing such a system wouldn’t be so expensive.

In combination with non-flammable building materials, exterior sprinkler systems could be triggered by rising temperatures. How? Relatively inexpensive smart home sensors on the market detect heat and humidity, and they could broadcast a Wi-Fi signal when temps near the home surpass a set threshold.

The fire detection system from Semtech, for example, uses real-time analytics, reporting and geolocation to detect the presence of smoke, gas or flames. Plus, it automatically notifies building owners in an emergency. It’s not so far-fetched that it might also work to trigger automatic response systems against an advancing blaze.

For greater water power, such a system might also employ a pump to wield more water from nearby koi ponds, swimming pools or standby cisterns or tanks. In the event of power failure, solar-powered generators keep the whole system working. Existing generators could power a home’s water supply for several hours. What’s more, prices for generators have dropped dramatically, making them more accessible.

Emergency Response Technologies For Emergency Management

The other side of the equation is technological advancement from the point of view of emergency managers and response personnel. Today, emergency managers can pinpoint areas of greatest damage and direct their assistance in a smart and efficient manner.

Emergency response managers are also using drones to conduct search and rescue operations to provide information on hard to access locations. The use of both flying and underwater drones allows rescue workers to safety analyze a situation before proceeding with their operations.

Lastly, the best emergency response plan is a good emergency preparedness and monitoring plan. As weather models, seismic sensor arrays, and GIS systems advance and with it the modeling of natural disasters, we know earlier and with better precision the next major disaster. These systems provide local, state, and federal officials the ability to prepare for the next natural disaster better than ever before. The outcome of it all, more lives saved.

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About the Author: Allena Prilia Begista

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