Data

How data does disasters

Shutterstock image: executive data storm.

The nature of disasters -- natural and manmade -- is constantly evolving, and so is the ability to respond to them, as federal agencies and the private sector use technology, crowdsourcing and data to enhance response and recovery efforts.

To highlight those efforts, the Office of Science and Technology Policy held a demo day July 29 in Washington for the Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative, a program launched in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The initiative is meant to explore the ways technology can empower survivors, first responders and governments in the face of disaster.

"Technology in the wake of a disaster isn't useful unless people know how to use it," U.S. CTO Todd Park said.

One of the agencies spearheading the program is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Former FEMA Chief of Operations Rich Serino, who gained a flash of attention for his prominent role in the Hurricane Sandy recovery, was an early booster. When he left the agency at the end of 2013, Serino's vision for technology-driven recovery abilities was assumed by Joe Nimmich, who told the audience at the OSTP event that innovation is an imperative at FEMA.

"It's processes, not just tools and information. It’s how we take that information to better support the survivors," said Nimmich, who noted that each FEMA incident management team will have a tech person on staff.

Meredith Lee, a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Homeland Security Department, gave a preview of Disaster.Data.gov, which will be a resource for innovation in disaster mitigation and recovery initiatives.

The site will be developed in the coming months, and DHS is looking for feedback from first responders and others at the local, state and federal level, as well as the private sector, as the site is built out.

Other tools unveiled or previewed at the demo day included:

-- The Environmental Protection Agency’s I-WASTE tool, a web-based system for first responders and officials that helps with waste-related issues following a disaster. The information it assists with ranges from waste characterization, disposal and treatment options as well as guidance and future planning for dealing with waste.

-- The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s GeoQ, a tool that uses crowdsourcing to gather and map geo-tagged photos of disaster areas in order to assess damage. The GeoQ tool is hosted and available on GitHub.

-- The Energy Department’s Lantern Live, a mobile app that allows users to report power outages, gas stations with fuel, downed trees, and other useful information during times of disaster. The app also maps the information for the user.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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