After causing more than $100 billion worth of damage, Hurricane Harvey has been named one of the costliest disasters in U.S. History. Although Hurricane Irma has been downgraded from a Category Four Hurricane (with winds blowing between 131 to 155 mph) to a tropical storm, Irma-linked accidents are proving just as deadly, although, according to Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon, the actual physical and human damage caused by Irma cannot be ascertained at this point.
As we zoom in on the cities hit hardest by these storms, we find that some of the most innovative tech and temporary housing solutions are being initiated by businesses that are becoming engaged in their communities in these times of crisis.
In Houston, Texas, when Hurricane Harvey hit in late August, a furniture store was quickly transformed into a shelter for those who lost their warm, dry beds to the hurricane. Gallery Furniture opened its doors, offering beds, food and restrooms to thousands of Texans fleeing Harvey. But their outreach didn’t stop at just providing shelter; the furniture store also transformed itself into a field rescue agency, exploiting its largest moving truck to rescue people from the hurricane. Gallery Furniture’s spontaneous initiative had a domino effect and soon several other furniture stores across undamaged areas of the city hosted hundreds and thousands of the hurricane’s refugees.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated that the number of people seeking shelter in the hurricane’s aftermath to be 30,000.
Further east in Florida, and just as the National Guard was getting ready to meet Hurricane Irma in Florida, insurance companies were competing using innovative tools and technology to keep their clients one step ahead of the disaster.
On USAA‘s website, browsers could hover over an interactive map showing areas affected by Harvey. The feature is open for anyone who has internet access; by typing in an address they could see images of the said area to speculate the damage caused by the hurricane.
Back in Houston, Farmers Insurance is tackling the emotional damage caused by Hurricane Harvey by providing therapy dogs at two of the company’s mobile claims centers in Texas. The dogs may provide hurricane victims with emotional support or simply keep customers in good furry company as they file claims.
Allstate and Esurance are using artificial intelligence coupled with before-and-after aerial photos to facilitate and speed up claims. The companies have developed a software to better analyze the images and other data in order to pinpoint where the damage is on a property. Allstate is also facilitating easier payment with its QuickCard Pay method.
The World Bank estimates that disasters costs an annual $520 billion and the impoverishment of 24 million people, which pushes private, public and transnational entities into using a myriad of modern-day technologies to respond to natural and manmade disasters.
In 2014 in Jakarta, a city notorious for its seasonal flooding, a group of enthusiastic coders found a way to formalize citizen information networks and respond to its frequent natural disasters with PetaJakarta (Literally Map Jakarta). Capitalizing on citizens’ usage of Twitter to inform one another of areas to avoid during times of flooding, PetaJakarta utilizes the social media network as an emergency data gathering and critical alert service in order to “…gather, sort and display information about flooding for Jakarta residents in real time.” Citizens are also able to ask questions that they have about flooding in specific neighborhoods. In February 2015, PetaJakarta.org mapped 1,000 flood sites around the city in real-time, creating a flood map that both the public and emergency services could use.
Last June, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) issued the updated the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities toolkit, providing a set of assessments that allows local governments to monitor and review progress and challenges to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: 2015-2030. Adopted in 2015 in the northern Japanese city of Sendai, the Sendai Framework involves seven targets and four priorities for action: aiming for the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities, and countries.