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Using Big Data to Aid Disaster Response

Posted May 12, 2017

Image credit: CC0 Public Domain

The idea of utilizing data mapping technologies in solving crises is very viable and has been adopted by most smart businesses across the globe. Advancements in technology have provided better solutions of improving disaster management in more efficient ways than before. It enables IT experts in various organizations to combine credible computer systems and networks such as sensors, tablets, smartphones, and cyber-physical systems is creating Big Data streams that help business executives and decision-makers to respond to disasters swiftly. The systems are very reliable to the extent that they create real-time data collection platforms that continue to process the collected data seamlessly during disasters.

Multinational organizations have come up with ways of leveraging Big Data and analytics in transforming the manner in which small businesses and large corporations respond to and manage disasters. There are more updated solutions that are focused towards analyzing large, noisy, and heterogeneous data so as to facilitate timely decision-making whenever disaster strikes. Analyzing data and responding immediately by using satellite images is much faster than sending humans to a disaster stricken area to assess the damage and make recommendations about the safety of the buildings or roads affected.

Data exhaust

As you go about your day-to-day activities of performing various projects on the World Wide Web using different digital devices, you and your colleagues at work leave behind a huge digital trail of data. For instance, the call detail records that you leave on your mobile phone. Data exhaust can also be generated from the credit card history records, data usage in form of access logs, or banking transactions that your business makes every day. This data is owned by private companies like mobile service providers and cannot be shared publicly due to security reasons.

Online platforms

User generated data on online platforms through emails, blog posts, SMS, search engine queries, and social media platform data can all be used to provide unique insights into crisis development. SMS can be very efficient when used on the ground by the affected community while a social media platform like Twitter can be used by the international aid community in responding to disaster. Moreover, online data is publicly available and hence it can be used by academics from different parts of the world in conducting research. Solutions like Apache kafka can be very reliable in processing data in real-time and continuously when analyzing Big Data that has been collected from online sources.

Sensing technologies

There are various sensing technologies that utilize ground, aerial, mobile phones, sensor nodes, and marine vehicles in gathering information through a cyber-physical technology about the environmental conditions surrounding the disaster stricken area. Some of the commonly used methods of collecting data through sensing technologies include remote sensing; satellite enabled high-flying aircraft scanning the earth, networked sensing, participatory sensing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) architecture.

Public-related data

Public-related data that is constantly collected by municipalities, hospitals, and government security agencies can come in handy in solving crises whenever they occur. Governments have very vital data about the general public collected through sources such as census data, socio-economic data, and birth and death certificates. Big Data has made it possible for these organizations to utilize the functionalities of mobile-phone-based data collection tools that enable efficient collection, aggregation, and analyzation of data. This data can be very helpful in aiding disaster response units to act swiftly in solving a crisis.


This enables users on an active application user-base to solicit their knowledge about a wide range of topics. In other words, it combines digital tech with human skills in utilizing the cognitive surplus of volunteers in situations of emergency. Since disasters are emergencies, it’s easier for humans to collectively merge forces for a common good. Big Data, generally, can play a very vital role in enabling disaster responses in a timely manner.

Written by Lindsey Patterson

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