Wireless and Emergency Communications Tech in Disaster Relief
When disaster strikes, as it did in April 2015 in Nepal, there is an immediate need for life-saving aid; the distribution of food, water and shelter becomes paramount to relief efforts. However, in the 21st century, technology is becoming an increasingly necessary facet of day-to-day functionality. As the world’s rural regions develop and technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, the more people rely on that technology to function. Today, even in the world’s most remote and impoverished regions, things like Internet access and mobile phone service are just as important to survival and well-being.
In addition to providing life-sustaining resources, aid workers are now being called upon to provide things like Wi-Fi access and cellular support. The leading provider of emergency communications is the United Nation’s Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (ICT). Within 48 hours of a disaster, ICT deploys its Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, or ETC.
The ETC is a series of connected balloons that act like cell phone towers and routers that can be set up to provide wireless Internet and cellular service in disaster zones. These services enable survivors to contact family or other outside assistance, find routes out of the disaster zone, or transfer vital funds. Those providing assistance benefit from these services as well, for they can receive vital information from the survivors themselves on the exact situation on the ground.
Today’s digital world makes it nearly impossible to do any work without staying connected. By repairing or installing communication networks, aid workers help themselves as much as they help survivors. With Wi-Fi and cell service, workers can more effectively communicate and coordinate their efforts, and thus deliver crucial assistance quicker.
Wi-Fi is not the only advanced technology being utilized in disaster relief. Drones have recently been implemented to aid humanitarian missions. Drones can access remote areas quickly and survey locations with cameras, which would otherwise be dangerously inaccessible. In fact, the ongoing relief efforts in Nepal have seen the largest deployment of drones in the history of disaster relief. The devices are currently being used to survey the damage, search for signs of survivors, and help relief organizers further coordinate their efforts. Drones, when used in a humanitarian capacity, have the potential to produce a significant impact. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, autonomous drones will be able to drop food, medicine and water far more quickly than actual aid workers.
– Joe Kitaj
Sources: ICT, ATISW, Direct Relief