Hurricane Katrina spawned many tools that are useful ten years later.
It’s been ten years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Since that time, everyday technology has made numerous and significant advances. The American Red Cross has also taken steps using modern technology to better prepare for and respond to disasters.
SAFE AND WELL Many families were separated during Hurricane Katrina, and the Red Cross realized it was vital for people to have a way to reconnect after a disaster. This led to the development of the “Safe and Well” website, where people can search for loved ones who have registered. After the Boston Marathon bombing, for example, more than 450 people used the site to tell friends and family they were okay.
MOBILE APPS The Red Cross has also created a series of free mobile apps that put lifesaving information at the user’s fingertips when they need it most. The latest release – the Emergency App – gives people instant access to more than 35 customizable emergency weather alerts as well as safety tips and preparedness information for 14 different types of emergencies and disasters.
The Emergency App contains the “I’m Safe” feature, which helps people use their social media channels to let loved ones know they are okay after an emergency. In total, these apps have been downloaded nearly 7 million times and have been credited with saving lives in Oklahoma, Texas and a number of other states. There is also a First Aid app which puts expert advice for everyday emergencies in the user’s hand.
For 7- to 11-year-olds, our Monster Guard: Prepare for Emergencies App is available for free download. Youth earn points and incentives in a gaming environment while learning how to prevent emergencies, like home fires, and how to stay safe if severe weather or natural disasters occur. It can be downloaded at iTunes.
HOME FIRES Using a geographic information system to display five years of data, the Red Cross is identifying neighborhoods with a high risk of serious home fires and leading a coalition of organizations to go door-to-door in those neighborhoods. By installing new smoke alarms, educating whole families about fire safety, and developing fire escape plans for those homes, the Red Cross coalition is saving lives and reducing injuries. The GIS interface makes it possible to do the labor-intensive work of going door-to-door in an efficient manner.
SOCIAL MEDIA Over the past decade, social media has not only become an essential tool in our daily lives, it’s also become a vital resource in helping response organizations anticipate needs on the ground during times of disaster. The Red Cross is a leader in using social media channels to help people during an emergency.
Thanks to grants from Dell, the Red Cross now operates three Digital Operations Centers where we monitor social media conversations as a disaster strikes, using real time data to identify communities in need. When a tornado and flash flood recently hit Wise County, a small rural area northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, digital volunteers were able to gather street addresses, photographs from the ground, and up-to-the-minute information on county roads where damage had occurred. This information was given to disaster response teams before the first relief truck even rolled in. It saved hours of work for field responders, making for a more effective response operation.
NATIONAL SHELTER SYSTEM The Red Cross developed a National Shelter System and has agreements with more than 61,000 potential shelter locations. This allows the Red Cross to open shelters within hours of a disaster impacting the community. Affected individuals can use the Red Cross mobile apps to find these shelters.
VOLUNTEER CONNECTION The Red Cross also developed a new volunteer management system – Volunteer Connection – to transform the way we communicate with our volunteers. Volunteers can stay informed about volunteer opportunities in their area, and the Red Cross can quickly deploy volunteers to a relief operation through Volunteer Connection.
The Red Cross has a long history of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies. Digital and mobile technology drastically expands our ability to help during a disaster and ensure people have critical information when they need it. Our use of modern technology is vital to help when the next disaster strikes. There have been many Red Cross technological developments in the last ten years and as technology continues to advance, it is important that the Red Cross continues to move forward too.