Nowadays, the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become more and more significant in various sectors of our society including the management of natural hazards and disasters. ICT can be used to minimize the impacts of disaster and plays an important role in all phases of the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) cycle: risk mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery, though its levels of involvement and applications are varied for each phases of the cycle. In order to reduce the impacts of natural disasters, it is required to put systematic efforts in the analysis of potential risk and identification of suitable measures for mitigation as well as for improved emergency preparedness activities, prior to a disaster. The response and recovery activities are as well important during and after a disaster for the provisions of emergency assistance for search and rescue, public safety as well as for the restoration of disaster-affected communities to a functioning state.
There exist different technologies and applications of ICTs indispensable to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) such as the advanced web and mobile technology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing and satellite communications, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and so on. In this article, some of these key technologies are briefly described with its potential applications in certain phases of the DRM cycle.
The Internet is widely used in the response phase for the reporting of casualties and damages as well as for the coordination of disaster relief activities. As we all are aware of, the Internet, has become one of the main sources of latest news and information, and there has been an increase in public participation for the independent reporting and analysis including post-disaster situations, thanks to the online social media applications. For example, one of social networking applications like twitter has become a major communication channel during natural disasters, through the sharing of news, photos and observations in emergency situations. The first responders can gain situational awareness of where the disasters are happening and what has been affected by systematically analyzing the geo-location and specific keywords in a tweet. Combined with development of smart phone technologies, it has become possible to obtain the updated emergency information and instructions in real time for emergency preparedness and response. There are also online portals and information management platforms for sharing of disaster-related information, for example, Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS).
The Earth Observation technologies such as remote sensing and aerial photogrammetry are also increasingly being applied in the acquisition of geo-spatial information for forecasting, modeling, monitoring and risk mapping. GIS, based on the cartography and database technology, is a vital information system for spatial analysis, modelling and visualization of disaster risk referenced to a certain geographic location. The use of GIS with remote sensing images have allowed a more comprehensive risk mapping to better support decision-making in risk management. The plans of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery can be formulated based on the mapping of hazards against location of house, people and critical infrastructures. For example, for risk mitigation, GIS is used to identify high risk locations and plan the potential actions to take. For emergency preparedness and response, it can be used to identify the location and planning of evacuation routes, shelters and available resources to mobilize in the area in the event of a disaster for delivery of relief supplies and medical assistance.
Reference: Asian and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology for development (APCICT), http://www.unapcict.org.
(Writer @is a PhD candidate working in the field of risk management applying geo-information tools and will continue writing on disasters and information technology related topics in this blog, )