~A guest student blog post by GISer Andrew Jones

With natural disasters increasing in magnitude and frequency, technology has an important role to play in the management of relief efforts. The use of open source technologies and readily available off the shelf products can provide realistic, cost effective solutions.This blog post looks at the these technologies and how they can be employed in the developing world.

There are private organizations and charities that have been set up to assist in dealing with the aftermath of natural and man made disasters. The Sahana software foundation was set up in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami to assist the management of  relief efforts following natural disasters. The foundation has since evolved into a provider of open source disaster management software. They are

“dedicated to the mission of saving lives by providing information management solutions that enable organizations and communities to better prepare for and respond to disasters”

Access to remotely sensed data can make the management of disaster zones a far more intuitive, visual process, and the disaster charter aims to make this data accessible. The charter is an agreement between countries that allows for disaster management agencies to obtain up to date satellite imagery for the disaster affected areas.

One of the major issues for disaster management efforts in developing countries is a lack of existing technological infrastructure.  A usable network that can provide means of reporting VGI, communications, and relief coordination is essential. An innovative network topology that can be utilized in these scenarios is a meshnet, which is essentially a decentralized method of networking. This method has been recently popularized as an alternative to internet infrastructure by project meshnet.

A potential meshnet configuration in a disaster zone

A potential meshnet configuration in a disaster zone

The delivery of aid in disaster zones is also an area that can greatly benefit by utilizing the advancement in technologies. Drone technology, like this example in Australia  could easily be used to deliver aid where conventional vehicles cannot. Another example of drone use is in Colorado this year to map the floods.

Book delivery in Australia by drone by Zookal

Book delivery in Australia by drone by Zookal

Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) is a valuable source of information and when combined with the other technologies mentioned above can make a big difference in the management of disasters. The widespread availability of smart mobile phones (even in developing countries) makes the utilization of these technologies a huge benefit. Many people have access to a device that can communicate, record video and photos with location information, and participate in a meshnet. This information is so invaluable in the wake of a disaster, UNICEF have commissioned a project that provides the tools for citizens to upload data about their local areas to live webmaps.

The convergence of these technologies is allowing innovative and affordable solutions to be applied to disaster management.

The charities and volunteer organizations are able to help empower the locals to take control of their own disaster management. Open source philosophy and utilization of affordable off the shelf products can make these solutions possible for developing nations. If you want to use your knowledge for the greater good, consider volunteering for one of the organizations mentioned above.

~by Andrew Jones, GIS student