The Latest Byte Logo
Featured Image

New Technology for Disaster Recovery

By: Carla Chinski

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2023-05-12

Quaking the Field

We live in a world where disasters seem increasingly part of the everyday news cycle. Earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods—but as these unwanted visitors become more frequent, we're finding new and innovative ways to brace for their impact, respond effectively when they strike, and bounce back once they've passed. From early warning systems that offer us a glimpse into the future to novel approaches in post-disaster recovery, we're turning the tables on these disasters, one innovation at a time.

We haven't perfected time travel yet, but we're getting pretty good at predicting the future—or at least, a specific type of future: the one involving natural disasters. For instance, early warning systems are now able to predict seismic activities with impressive accuracy. The Global Seismic Network, a conglomerate of over 150 seismic stations worldwide, vigilantly monitors the earth, detecting tremors and shifts that hint at a possible earthquake. But earthquakes aren't the only disasters we're predicting. As climate change accelerates, so does extreme weather events’ frequency and intensity. In response, we've got more sophisticated tools than ever to forecast these disasters. Take the GOES-16, a weather satellite that provides real-time data to meteorologists, enabling them to predict storms with an accuracy that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), a project launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), represent a game-changing evolution in weather forecasting. Launched in 2016, the GOES-16 provided unprecedented capabilities for weather forecasting. GOES-16 not only captures data about the earth's atmosphere, land, and oceans, but it does so at a rapid-fire pace—generating a full scan of our planet every 15 minutes, with more focused scans happening every 30 seconds. This swift data capture allows meteorologists to track and predict severe weather events with unparalleled speed and accuracy.

Add to that GOES-16’s sibling, GOES-17, which gives another layer of sophistication. Launched in 2018, this satellite focuses on the Western Hemisphere, providing detailed imagery and data on weather systems. And this includes tracking wildfires, fog, and other atmospheric phenomena that impact the Western United States, Alaska, and the Pacific Ocean. These two satellites work in tandem to provide an intricate, high-definition view of our planet's weather patterns, helping to usher in a new era of disaster preparedness.

However, GOES isn’t without challenges. The satellites require careful calibration to ensure the accuracy of their data, and their sophisticated instruments can be susceptible to space weather interference. But even with these challenges, GOES represents an invaluable tool in our arsenal against unpredictable weather, providing the sort of precise, real-time data that early weather prediction could only dream of.

A History of Prediction

The journey of weather prediction is a fascinating tale, starting with rudimentary observations of the sky and evolving into a sophisticated science that combines physics, meteorology, and computer science. In the 20th century, the marriage of physics and atmospheric sciences resulted in numerical weather prediction (NWP)—a method of forecasting that uses mathematical models of the atmosphere and oceans to predict the weather based on current weather conditions. One of the earliest NWP models, devised by mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson, was ahead of its time but too complex for the computing power then available.

Further down the line, mid-20th century and thanks to the advent of electronic computers, NWP took a major leap forward. Computers could crunch the complex calculations Richardson’s model required, leading to the first successful computerized weather prediction in 1950. Since then, the field has evolved rapidly, incorporating more data and improving models. Today, with the help of satellites like GOES, we’re able to know more about the weather with a level of detail and accuracy that would have seemed unimaginable just a few decades ago.

Disaster Response: Making Every Second Count

Despite the astounding advancements in these early warning systems, challenges persist. Data from disparate sources must be integrated seamlessly to enhance prediction accuracy. Moreover, these warnings are only as good as the actions they prompt—efforts must be made to ensure these warnings are relayed to the communities at risk in a timely and comprehensible manner. So, that means once disaster strikes, the clock starts ticking, and every second counts. Thankfully, technology has got our back, for the most part. From apps that map out the fastest evacuation routes to AI algorithms that can pinpoint the hardest-hit areas, we're making every second of response time count.

Companies like One Concern are at the forefront of these innovations. Their AI technology uses machine learning to anticipate damage levels in a disaster-stricken area, ensuring that help gets dispatched where it's needed most. However, using AI in disaster response isn't without its challenges. Reliable data is required to feed these algorithms, and this can be hard to come by during disasters. Furthermore, AI can only supplement human judgment, not replace it—ensuring the right balance is struck is critical.

Post-Disaster Recovery: Picking up the Pieces

Today, and as for recovery measures, drones, and satellite imaging are now commonly used to assess disaster damage quickly and accurately, helping authorities prioritize resources and plan recovery efforts effectively. Moreso, we're harnessing the power of data to learn from every disaster. By analyzing past incidents, we can identify patterns, understand what strategies worked and what didn't, and continually refine our approach to disaster recovery. This isn't to say that recovery is now a straightforward process—it remains fraught with complexity. It involves rebuilding what’s been physically lost and addressing disasters’ social, economic, and psychological impacts. Technological innovation is merely one piece of this jigsaw puzzle.

Share this article

Want to stay up to date? Join our newsletter!