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IT in Disaster Management and Preparedness

IT in Disaster Management and Preparedness

Information Technology in Disaster Management and Preparedness

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Catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis, and refugee crises, among others, are humanitarian emergencies and have devastating consequences for those affected. Information and communications technology (ICTs) are increasingly being adapted at different stages of the disaster process to carry out specific functions, such as assessing and mitigating risks in the planning process, managing disasters after their incident, and dealing with the aftermath consequences of a catastrophe (Eleanan, 2010). This research will evaluate the use of information management technology by government and humanitarian organizations in the Asia Pacific Region. Specifically this research will study the types of IT applications that governments and humanitarian organizations use to manage and address the adverse effects of natural disasters. It will assess how effective such technologies are in facilitating humanitarian aid and prevention of adverse consequences. This study will review the literature about IT use for the purpose of managing humanitarian consequences of disasters across the world and relate that to non-governmental organization efforts to mitigate humanitarian effects of calamities in Asia Pacific with a focus on the typhoon Hayman in the Philippines. The research will also assess the role of social media in facilitating new forms of organizing disaster recovery efforts.

Problem Statement

Natural disasters can cause catastrophic damages to infrastructure and human injuries and death that constitute significant monetary value. The economic cost of natural disasters throughout the world accounted for $109 billion in 2011, constituting a considerable increase over the cost recorded in 2010. This is according to a UN report, which also noted that poorly maintained infrastructures in cities were responsible for the increase in the cost (MacInnis, 2010). Consequently, countries have begun to utilize the promise of science and technology in mitigating such huge costs associated with catastrophic disasters. Recently, OECD countries have developed programs or incentives to design and deploy ICTs, geographic information systems, as well as remote sensing and satellite data to offset the economic and social costs of disasters (“Technology to manage natural disasters and catastrophes”, n.d.).

The frequency of natural disasters is particularly higher in Asia Pacific regions than in other parts of the world, necessitating multiple interventions from the government and humanitarian agencies. According to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP) (2015), 160 disasters hit the Asia-Pacific region in 2015 alone. This accounts for 47% of all the disasters (344) in the world for that year (ESCAP, 2015). Further, the Asia-Pacific region took a toll in catastrophic disasters, causing more than 16,000 fatalities, more than twice the number recorded the previous year. Sixty-four percent of all the global fatalities occurred in South Asia in 2015, with the majority being linked to the Nepal earthquake of April led to an estimated 8,790 deaths (ESCAP, 2015). The entire continent including Asia Pacific regions incurred over $ 45.1 billion in direct losses and more in indirect losses (ESCAP, 2015). However, these figures are an underestimate of the real numbers due to a lack of systematic assessment of the cost of all disasters and a comprehensive account of a single disaster.

The same year, global efforts to prioritize actions to accomplish sustainable development were initiated. Such efforts include the application of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR). Such global agendas and discourse serve as a collective drive for future actions toward developing resilience in Asia and the Pacific, which is the most disaster-prone region in the globe (ESCAP, 2015).

Literature Review

The types of disasters that hit the continent range from earthquakes in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Nepal, as well as tropical cyclones that hit the Asia Pacific and South-East Asia regions. Other disasters experienced the same year include floods in India, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar; and droughts that affected many countries in the drier part of Asia continent (ESCAP, 2015). Forty-three of the 90 storms reported throughout the globe hit countries in Asia Pacific regions, especially the Philippines.

Thirty-three of the storms were high-intensity cyclones (ESCAP, 2015). It is worth noting that many disasters had great effects on urban centers because they were not adequately prepared. Considerable literature has investigated the role of information technology systems in disaster management.    Disaster Management describes a range of activities to keep control over the catastrophe and offer a structure to offer aid, avoid, or recover from its effects. Disaster management encompasses preventing, mitigating, preparing, responding, recovering, and rehabilitating potential victims of a disaster (Lopez-Carressi et al., 2013).  Typically, disaster management is the mandate of all governments. However, non-governmental organizations also play a significant role in the process.

The current disaster management surpasses post-disaster aid. It covers pre-disaster planning and preparedness activities, organizational planning, training, and information management as well as public relations (The Masterbuilder Bureau, 2015). Reliable and effective communication is critical for mitigating disaster. Specially, information technologies, competencies, and media are significant due to the different roles they deliver in managing disasters. These functions include connecting scientists, disaster control officials, and the public, educating the communities concerning disaster preparedness; monitoring for impending catastrophes, alerting relevant authorities; and warning the most likely casualties of the event (The Masterbuilder Bureau, 2015). Other roles include assessing damage; to gather relevant information, supplies, and other resources; to coordinate resource and relief activities; and to account for missing people; and to mobilize public, political and institutional responses (The Masterbuilder Bureau, 2015).  The adoption of ICT Information Technology has virtually changed many aspects of human life. In this light, it has the potential to improve disaster management and preparedness. Successful disaster management calls for drastic progress in mobilizing resources to mitigate damage and prevent the deaths of the victims of the disaster. To this end, addressing catastrophes needs the resolution of data collection, management, communication, and translation integration problems.

The advanced levels of IT such as remote sensing, satellite communication, Geographic Information Systems, and others may aid in planning and implementing disaster management actions. In fact, the trend towards disaster prevention in the management setting has attracted significant interest in research and development roles in the sector of IT for preparedness and prevention of catastrophes (The Masterbuilder Bureau, 2015). In the most significant phases of some of the infamous disasters such as the earthquakes in Turkey, Northridge California, and Kobe Japan, electronic communication provided the most effective means of communication to the rescue teams. A large number of scientific and technological resources and skills have helped minimize the risks of disasters. The relevant ICTs relevant in disaster management and preparedness are the Internet and GIT.

Communication

The disasters in most countries are mainly managed by the government and humanitarian organizations, such as the Red Cross and USAID. The government at all levels assumes different roles during a disaster. Currently, voluntary sectors including the NGOs are also becoming increasingly involved in disaster management and preparedness.  Brassard, Giles, and Hewitt (2014) asserted provision of timely, transparent, and accurate information as critical to the recovery process. They cite the Black Saturday experience as indicative of different promising techniques for solving the problem.

Within the Marysville Triangle communities, different groups teamed to provide crucial information for not only the survivors of the disaster but also the recovery agents and VBRRA. Such diverse communication approaches and outreach facilitated the officials in responding effectively to the information needs of the people in the affected area (Brassard et al., 2014).  However, the fading of altruism and setting in of physical and emotional exhaustion, coupled with disillusionment with the task of rebuilding and anxiety that the government is not doing enough cognizant of the victim’s needs might jeopardize the process of recovery. Consequently, it is paramount for the recovery people to offset the likelihood of rumors and misinformation. To this end, several avenues for disseminating information are requisites and those charged need to reinforce the messages continuously. Major messages must be recurrent, constant, and honest. Consistency between the authorities in charge will be essential, while immediate and urgent action by leaders will be essential to restore confidence in, explain to, hear respond to the community distress. According to Brassard et al. (2014), this approach may help build the mutual respect, confidence, and trust needed for recovery efforts.

Sentinel Asia   The Sentinel Asia scheme was conceived in 2005 as cooperation between regional and space sand disaster management bureaus, using remote sensing and Web-GIS technologies to aid in disaster management in the Asia-Pacific area (Natural Disasters Data Book, 2011).  As of 2013, many national agencies of almost 25 nationalities in the regions have enrolled and gained from the disaster support services Sentinel Asia provides (Kaku & Held, 2013).

SA provides local support to the International Charter by permitting any country within the Asia Pacific to join its network in exchange for disaster relevance information without considering membership to the International Charter or investment into space infrastructure (Bessis, Bequignon & Mahmood, 2004). The initiative intends to strengthen safety in society, through more effective Internet and data distribution system applications, in addition to easier access to space technologies owned by nations of the region. It also seeks to enhance the accuracy and speed of disaster preparedness and timely warning systems. SA also aims to mitigate the number of casualties and losses, both economic and social.

The framework of SA consists of a joint project team, a data provider node, a data analysis node, and technical working groups (Kaku & Held, 2013). The joint project team comprised cooperation among the space community (APRSAF), the Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC) – the disaster management community, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Association of South East Asia (ASEAN), Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). To support the implementation of the Sentinel Asia scheme, all APRSAF participants, disaster management agencies, as well as international or regional organizations can join the JPT provided they are willing to contribute their experiences and technical competencies and desire to engage in the technical dimension of disaster information-sharing actions (Kuku & Held, 2013).

The data provider node (DPN) comprises multiple regional space agencies and related institutions, as relates to regional disasters. They supply data from their satellites to the data analysis node upon request by a member of the JPT or ADRC (Mahamood, 2012), although to the degree the data policy of the provider node. The members of DNP are JAXA, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), and Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL), the Center for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) and the National University of Singapore. The Current DPN members are Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgyz, Lao P.D.R, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and International Humanitarian Organizations (Kaku & Held, 2013).

The data analysis node (DAN) component of Sentinel Asia was established when the needs for information rather than data emerged. Some emergency and disaster organizations preferred information products to raw data, leading to the initiation of the data analysis and value-adding component of SA. Hence, DAN provides some degree of analysis and pre-processing to the satellite images supplied by the DPN, making it easier for disaster management groups to acquire easily understandable interpretations of satellite images. The members of the DAN analyze the satellite data supplied by the DPN and integrate it with their data to make valuable information about impending disasters, or those that have just occurred, and deliver them in near real-time. One of the nodes becomes the Primary Data Analysis Node (P-DAN) by nomination and is charged with the extra duty of managing data analysis, which involves coordinating the response of all other DANs to each and every emergency request (Kaku & Held, 2013). As of 2013, the Thailand’s AIT was the P-DAN. The current DAN members are Satellite Potential.

Social Media Use in Typhoon Haiyan

Risk communication is crucial to emergency management regarding the spread of public health messages. This was evidenced during Typhoon Hayan in the Philippines. Because of its popularity in the South Asia Pacific nation, social network platforms, especially the popular Facebook were used for communicating risks in the response to Haiyan. Although the main humanitarian agencies in the country did not have Facebook accounts in the aftermath of the disaster, it soon became obvious that they needed one. They immediately established Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and the effects became apparent immediately (Cool, Claravll, Hall, Keisuke, Zepeda, & Gehner, 2015).  Cool and peers (2015) observed that the posted content on social media platforms transformed from public health information to proactive public health preparedness and intervention content. The content of the messages posted on Facebook and other social media platforms was particularly key health interventions motivating followers to adopt protective actions to limit public health threats that frequently occur in the aftermath of a catastrophe such as Typhoon Haiyan (Cool et al., 2015). According humanitarian agencies adopted social media for recruiting participants (Hugelius, Adolfsson, & Gifford, 2017).       Similarly, Twitter was also used after the incident of Typhoon Hainan (David, Ong, & Legara, 2016). Most of the tweets that prevailed around the topic contained information about the disaster including its damages and disaster relief efforts. However, the content of the tweets varied depending on the sources with ordinary users tweeting emotional messages, messages of support, to political content. On the other hand, official sources and major information herbs tweeted content that included news organizations, aid programs, and celebrities. Social media present alternative means of communication especially because traditional communication channels are often devastated in the event of disasters  (Tandoc & Takahashi, 2016).

News Center (2016) outlined a study conducted in the aftermath of the disaster. The study revealed that connecting with social media contacts helped the survivors make sense of their experiences “and deal with emotional and psychological stress” (News Center, 2016). The study highlighted mobile phones, and communication technology, as lifeline tools in desperate circumstances such as typhoon Haiyan. An online social networking can be an outlet for coping with the desperate circumstances and the emotional and psychological distress accompanying such events (News Center, 2016).

Satellite Potential

Satellite, which is a component of ICTs, has significant potential in disaster management and preparedness. Consequently, the need for and promise of satellite technology in managing technology have been the center of many studies and discourse (Walter n.d.). Various reports by the former staff of the Naval Research Laboratory highlighted the potential of remote-sensing systems in the management and preparedness of disasters.

According to Walter (n.d.) technologies related to satellites are geophysical, communications, meteorological, and remote sensing technologies. Communications satellites are especially important in disaster management and preparedness. Satellite transmissions of digital, video, and voice data have become the hallmark of the communication industry. The capabilities of ground stations and polar-orbiting and geosynchronous satellites in transmitting environmental data are especially important in disaster preparedness and response. The remote-sensing system is equally of great interest to disaster management professionals and staff. Remote-sensing satellites are important in observing, mapping, and monitoring features and phenomena on the surface of the Earth (López-Carres et l., 2013). They have finer spatial resolution than meteorological satellites and can resolve an object to 100 meters resolution. However, they have a limited total field of view of a couple of kilometers wide, limiting the amount of area they can scan in a day.

Conclusion  

Information Technology is essential for successful management and preparedness of disaster events. It facilitates coordination of multiple agencies and organizations to ensure adequate recovery of people from the affected areas. Social media facilitates communication of relevant messages to the people on the ground, while individual survivors use it to communicate to their significant others about their status. Organization can also use social media to pass reassuring messages and recruit participants as well as coordinate the rescue between the agencies on the ground. Different satellite technologies have also the potential to mitigate disaster effects and facilitate preparedness by providing data that can be interpreted to predict immediate future incidences of disaster by studying meteorological data. The message can be very significant in alerting the locals about an imminent disaster so that drastic measures can be taken to mitigate the effects of the catastrophe.

References

Bessis J–L, Bequignon J, Mahmood A. The International Charter “Space and Major Disasters” initiative. Act Astronautica 2004, 54 (3):183–90.

Brassard, Caroline; Giles, David W.; Howitt, Arnold M. (2014). Natural Disaster Management in the Asia-Pacific: Policy and Governance.

Cool, C., Claravll, M., Hall, J., Keisuke, T., Zepeda, J., & Gehner, M. (2015). Social Media as a risk communication tool following typhoon Haiyan. Western Surveillance and Response Journal , 86-90.

David, C., Ong, J., & Legara, E. (2016). Tweeting supertyphoon Haiyan: Evolving functions of twitter during and after a disaster event. PLoS ONE , 11 (3), 1-19.

Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific. (2015). Disaster in Asia and the Pacific: 2015 Year in Review.

Eleana, A. (2010). Advanced ICTs for Disaster Management and Threat Detection: Collaborative and Distributed Frameworks: Collaborative and Distributed Frameworks. Hershey, PA.: IGI Global.

Hugelius, K., Adolfsson, A., & Gifford, M. (2017, January 19). Facebook enables disaster research studies: the use of social media to recruit participants a post-disaster setting. Current Disasters .

Kaku, K., & Held, A. (2013). Sentinel Asia: A space-based disaster management support system in the Asia-Pacific region. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction , 6, 1-17.

López-Carresi, A., Fordham, M., Wisner, B., Kelman, I., & Gaillard, J.C. (2013). Disaster Management: International Lessons in Risk Reduction, Response and Recovery. New York: Taylor & Francis.

MacInnis, L. (2010). Cost of natural disasters $ 109 billion in 2010: U.N.

Mahmood, A. (2012). Monitoring disasters with a constellation of satellites –type examples from the international charter ‘space and major disasters’. Geocarto International, 27(2):91–101.

Natural Disasters Data Book-2011. Analyzed by Asian Disaster Reduction Center by CRED EM-DAT database, July 2012

News Center . (2016, July 04). We’re alive: How social media posts help in post-disaster coping.

Tandoc, E. C., & Takahashi, B. (2016). Log in if you survived: collective coping on social media in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines. Sage Journal .

Technology to manage natural disasters and catastophes . (n.d.).

The Masterbuilder Burea. (2015, March 10). Role of information and communication technology in natural disaster management in India .

Walter, L. S. (n.d.). The uses of satellite technology in disaster management. Disasters, 20-36.

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