Disaster planning by location
Location Intelligence keeps responders — and businesses — informed
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, there was a huge need for emergency and medical services. Unfortunately, some hospitals were unable to respond because they were submerged under water, leaving thousands of people scrambling to find care.
Afterwards, one hospital moved its emergency room 20 feet above base-flood levels to the upper floors, while relocating emergency generators, electrical components, kitchens and other services that would traditionally be housed in the basement.
In the wake of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, terrorist attacks and other dire situations over the past several years, many companies and communities are looking to prepare themselves before a disaster strikes. They’re developing strategies to pinpoint possible external threats, identify internal vulnerabilities and secure alternative means of transportation, production and other tools needed to keep a disaster-hit business going.
“Among other things, Location Intelligence can help document high-risk areas for flooding and other disasters; look at traffic patterns and major arteries to see best transport options and aid during a crisis; let you see what weaknesses you have — and put changes in place,” says Howard Dresner, an analyst and author of the 2015 report, Location Intelligence Market Study Report.
The insurance industry has long used Location Intelligence technology to allow their underwriting and claims organisations to determine risk exposure in a specific area or “catastrophe zone” on a digital map. Analytic tools can leverage data from government and other sources to evaluate the potential fire, weather, natural disaster and terror-related exposure in a particular area.
Intelligence systems can pull together critical information needed in the aftermath of a disaster, but which has traditionally been isolated in different databases that didn’t talk to each other.
“There has never been a time when you could acquire all the data you need so cost-effectively,” says Joe Francica, Managing Director of Geospatial Industry Solutions for Pitney Bowes.
For example, a facility can be geocoded (assigned a longitude and latitude), and then plotted relative to the number of fire stations in the vicinity. This can help a company determine the risk the facility faces in the event of a blaze and, just as importantly, develop strategies to mitigate or transfer that risk.
Companies can analyse the probability of earthquakes in an area, and then factor in the height and age of their buildings to determine their exposure. This type of location intelligence-based planning can have implications throughout the organisation, such as determining what alternative suppliers need to be in place in their supply chains.
Clearer heads, quicker results
When a disaster strikes, location intelligence can also help companies, governments and organisations respond quickly and effectively in a chaotic atmosphere. “When a catastrophic natural event like a tornado hits, there is no longer a frame of reference,” Francica says. Houses can literally be upended. Street signs can be yanked out of the ground. In addition, all the typical ways people have used to understand and communicate where they are can be gone.
In such situations, responders must perform information triage, such as sending out drones that can capture information about how the landscape has changed. By providing real-time feedback to the disaster war room, a new digital map can be created that can help determine where emergency crews need to be sent and how they can get there. “A location intelligence system brings together people, agencies and systems to provide what these agencies call a common operational view,” Francica says. He notes that in an emergency, the public itself becomes both a consumer of such data and a provider: People go online to ask what gas stations are open and where power is still operational. This information can be mapped, providing better and quicker ways to respond to disasters.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, government agencies ranging from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have prioritised finding new ways to use location-based technology to help first responders, survivors and organisations react more swiftly to disasters. The hope is that companies can use this technology to address disaster planning, so as to prevent these events from being quite so disastrous.
“New urban planning projects are being designed with disaster planning in mind,” Francica says. “Location intelligence has become an incredibly powerful tool that can help save lives and restore order when the unimaginable happens.”