How data can help during natural disasters.

Using Data Before, During, and After Natural Disasters

Rob Armstrong
Rob Armstrong
16. August 2020 3 min Lesezeit

One of my kids was a DJ in college and, being from San Diego, liked to play the song “Earthquakes and Sharks” by Brandtson (Google it, catchy song).

I think of that as I am often teased about living in Southern California. People wonder how I can live there with all the earthquakes, fires, mud slides, and raft of other natural disasters.  My answer is that you must take the good with the bad and, by the way, we do not have hurricanes, snowstorms, freezing rain, or tornados.

Even with COVID still in our midst, we have other disasters that Mother Nature will continue to throw at us, and if COVID has taught us anything, it is best to be prepared (or maybe Lion King taught us that)! Luckily there are companies that are using data to make our lives better by predicting natural disasters (whichever form it may take) so we can be prepared, as well as help, during the actual event and the aftermath. Following are just some examples of how data is being used to keep us safer.

Before the panic

With today’s technology we are getting much more sophisticated with the detection of coming problems. While we may not be able to prevent the fire, rainstorm, or earthquake, we can be much better prepared to survive.

One way this is happening is using drones with sensors flying through the back country and valleys of Southern California “sniffing the air” to detect early signs of smoke. Data is also collected about the weather, humidity, air quality, and even  vegetation.

All this IoT data is being collected in near real time, being analyzed with sophisticated predictive analytic algorithms to create prioritized maps to either proactively address the situation or to strategically place assets in case things take a turn for the worse.

During the battle

Once disaster strikes, data becomes even more critical. Counties are using sensors to help direct traffic and clear routes for emergency vehicles, communication companies can re-prioritize service to ensure emergency crews have the bandwidth to stay in constant communication, and utility companies use data to manage power lines and shut down those that can create sparks which further fire dangers.

This all highlights the need for real time data feeds and real time analytics. You cannot fight against a constantly changing danger by relying on old data (even hours old) or by simply producing standards reports. Companies need to assess and respond with targeted and timely actions.

After the fact

Of course, we all know that “this too shall pass” but then we are left with the aftermath of the disaster. People lose homes, buildings or infrastructures are damaged, and we all must try to move on. Again, data helps to provide better resolutions. Insurance companies use data to understand which of their customers are impacted the most and can proactively understand the property and limits of coverage so they can quickly provide relief funds to people.

Data is also used afterwards to understand how to be better prepared for the next disaster.  Where should power lines be moved underground? Which roadways need be expanded to allow heavier emergency vehicles access to critical areas? Should there be new building codes to help minimize exposures? All these questions demand a significant amount of integrated data and sophisticated analytics to delivers real answers that effect real outcomes.

Don’t just survive, thrive

At Teradata we say our mission is that “We transform how businesses work and people live through the power of data” and I firmly believe that is true.  I have seen how this has occurred for over 30 years as we helped various industries become better, which in turn allow people to live a better life. 

In addition to the previous examples, we’ve helped companies in retailing, transportation, and manufacturing be more efficient. We’ve helped companies in the medical and insurance fields be more focused on patient outcomes, and helped financial firms be more protective of our assets by preventing fraud and abuse. We’ve even helped governments provide better social services which reduce or even eliminate suffering like hunger and disease.  You can read more about these stories here.

To close, as we move into the next season of potential disaster, please remember all the folks on the front lines such as the fire fighters, police, doctors and others that risk their lives for us. While you are at it say a quick thanks to the data managers and data scientist that work behind the scenes. The job is not as high profile but as you now know, it is just as critical.


Infos Rob Armstrong

Since 1987, Rob has contributed to virtually every aspect of the data warehouse and analytical arenas. Rob’s work has been dedicated to helping companies become data-driven and turn business insights into action. Currently, Rob works to help companies not only create the foundation but also incorporate the principles of a modern data architecture into their overall analytical processes.

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