The Role of IoT in Disaster Management & Emergency Planning

IoT can’t stop disasters from happening, but it can help identify life-threatening hazards, alert authorities at an early stage, and assist in rescuing those affected, saving lives, resources, and money. Through the use of IoT technologies emergency management and response can be enhanced, and as a result have far better outcomes.

Australian bush fires, Indian monsoons, earthquakes in Japan, Northeasters along the US east coast – most natural disasters are inevitable, but the worrying news is that they are on the rise.  According to a United Nations (UN) report from October 2020, extreme weather events have dominated the disaster landscape in the 21st century, and it can be linked to a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events.

To put this in perspective, between 2000 and 2019, there were 7 348 major recorded disaster events, which claimed 1.23 million lives and affected an additional 4.2 billion, resulting in nearly $3 trillion in global economic losses. What makes these figures stand out is that they show a sharp increase over the previous twenty years, which saw just over 4 000 disasters which led to roughly $1.6 billion in economic losses and claimed 1.19 million lives.

Floods and storms have seen the most prevalent increase, with floods more than doubling, but there have also been major increases when it comes to drought, wildfires, and extreme temperature events, along with a rise in geo-physical events, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, which have killed more people than any other natural hazard. Add man-made disasters, such as hazardous material spills, infrastructure failures, and explosions, to that pile and it’s obvious that emergency preparedness has to not just improve but become more efficient.

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While we can’t do away with disasters, we can improve both our preparedness and our response through IoT-enabled prediction and early warning systems, along with IoT-enabled response systems.

According to the Global Disaster Preparedness Center, there are four phases of emergency management: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.

Minimizing the effects of disaster, such as implementing building codes and zoning, vulnerability analyses, public education.

Planning response, including preparedness plans, emergency exercises and training, warning systems.

Minimize hazards created by disaster, such as search and rescue, emergency relief

Return the community to normal, through things like temporary housing, grants, medical care, and IoT can be a game changer in a number of ways.

Through the use of, among other things, sensors, robots, and unmanned vehicles, IoT helps minimize risks and improve response by transforming disaster management from reactive to proactive. And the data generated by these devices minimizes the risk of being taken off guard while helping everyone to make more informed decisions. Additionally, enhanced communications systems assist in rescue work. Here’s how:

IoT devices and sensors can collect near-real-time data on things like water levels, volcanic activity, and barometric readings. Sensors can detect wildfires, tornadoes, cloudbursts, volcanic activities, earthquakes, etc. and send early warnings. Additionally, critical infrastructure (or any infrastructure, really) can be protected through predictive maintenance. Hazard mitigation is enabled by using sensors to monitor pollutants and contaminants, including radioactive situations.

Emergency preparedness can be enhanced through IoT-enabled response mechanisms, procedures and rehearsals. Real-time data from sensors, cameras, and other connected devices can be embedded into infrastructure, making it possible to monitor conditions in real time, as well as receive vital data both historical and in real time. This data allows city managers to prioritize repairs and employ preventive maintenance. And the connected devices deployed in buildings, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure can also be used to provide alerts and enhance communications. Additionally, through the use of IoT devices, strategic reserves of food, water, clothing, medical equipment, and other vital supplies can be monitored to ensure acceptable levels.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, situational awareness is critical to ensuring resources are prioritized in order to have the most impact and help those most in need, but as operations go on, recovery efforts must be repeatedly updated based on changing conditions. Widely deployed IoT technology within a city’s infrastructure, in forest areas, or anywhere else, for that matter, can be re-tasked to identify emergency conditions, people who are trapped, or the status of things like the power grid. First responders need actionable information and IoT can facilitate response planning and actions through the use of sensors to monitor the movement of key personnel, as well as sensors and IoT-enabled cameras on the scene of the incident. Situational awareness and incident management can be achieved through things like smart clothing, which can monitor and report things like a firefighter’s vital signs and on-scene conditions, allowing them to be pulled from the scene if things become too dangerous. First responders can also be equipped with audio and video sensors, or supported by autonomous drones and vehicles, allowing dangerous situations to be monitored and assessed from a safe distance.

Automated IoT systems can send out alerts, news, and other digital resources to keep the public informed in real time. Mobile updates can provide vital information, such as where a tornado has touched down, or provide information of how to keep safe, where to find a safe location, and resources for seeking shelter or life-saving supplies. Connected digital signs, such as at bus stops, on roadways, and in city squares, can also be used to spread critical information quickly. Battery powered IoT devices can enable limited communication services, such as emergency micro-messaging.

Disaster recovery efforts and operations can be extremely challenging, placing significant demands on multiple resources, including both local and international emergency response personnel, NGOs, and the military, all of whom must collaborate and share resources and information in order to execute recovery quickly and effectively. IoT devices can help in search and rescues operations, as well as monitor post-disaster conditions and levels of vital resource stockpiles. IoT can continue to be used to disseminate information to the public while normal communications are still being repaired.

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable emergency management, please get in touch

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