Applying New Technologies to Disaster Response

Drones presentation AS paint

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to join the United Nations Working Group on Emergency Telecommunications (WGET) forum on humanitarian innovation held April 10-11 in Luxembourg to speak about two significant technology projects which Direct Relief has been involved in during the response to Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines.

The WGET is one of the key forums within the UN system for discussing the implications and applications of new technologies to disaster response. Serving as a critical advisory body for the UN Interagency Standing Committee and the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, the WGET brings together a wide range of UN agencies, bilateral aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector representatives to explore the diverse ways technology can improve responses to complex international emergencies.

Drones for Relief presentation - Andrew S paintAlong with my colleague Brian Fishman from Palantir Technologies, I laid out the vision of the MIMOSA (MIniature MObile SAtellite) emergency response platform.  MIMOSA allows aid workers from all sectors to collect structured data in remote environments where cellular networks may be broken or weak, using satellite-connected short message service (SMS) communications devices.

In the Philippines, we helped to implement this system along with our colleagues in Team Rubicon, Access Aid International, Philippines Red Cross, Gawad Kalinga and the Tacloban Health Cluster. With the success and spread of MIMOSA, we can glimpse a future in which large numbers of response organizations are able to gather data, coordinate, analyze and evaluate their activities in real time right from the opening moments of crisis response operations. MIMOSA was named a finalist in this year’s Vodafone Americas Wireless Innovations Program awards.

I was also joined by my colleagues at DanOfficeIT to discuss the emergent field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) as critical data collection tools during crisis response. In the Philippines, Direct Relief collaborated with DanOfficeIT to deploy a Huginn X-1 UAV for search and rescue, health facility damage assessment and logistical evaluation.

UAVs promise massively enhanced access to precise and rapidly produced imagery within disaster situations. In subsequent months interest in UAVs for humanitarianism has grown significantly. I am now in the process of assembling a working group on this topic within Nethope.org to engage our NGO colleagues in the cutting edge of data for disaster response.

Although serious disasters appear to be growing in frequency and severity worldwide, the high quality of thought, practice and discussion at this year’s WGET offers a hopeful thread for our collective ability as an international community to care for the survivors of such events and to construct stronger societies in their wake.

Related posts > Civil Drones Improve Humanitarian Response in the Philippines; How Technology Can Enable Collaboration for the Common Good; Direct Relief Named Finalist in Wireless Innovation Project Competition

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