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Disaster, emergency, and climate at FWD50 2019

The number of natural disasters humans face has grown in recent years:

From Our World In Data (https://ourworldindata.org/natural-disasters)

The good news is that the lives lost to such tragedies has dropped — thanks to better preparedness, improved communications, and new technologies to find and help survivors.

Source: Our World In Data (https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2018/04/Global-annual-death-rate-from-natural-disasters-01.png)

Many of the systems we take for granted can be co-opted into emergency services: For example, in many countries, beer and soft drink makers can quickly reconfigure their factories to produce canned water and push it down their supply chains—the systems we’ve created as a society to move goods and services at scale can be quickly transformed to help us.

From ABC News (https://abcnews.go.com/US/anheuser-busch-sending-300000-cans-drinking-water-areas/story?id=58541217)

In Canada, Canadian brewer Labatt recently did this for firefighters and victims of forest fires. Elsewhere, mobile networks push out emergency warnings; social media platforms let us report in during disasters; and Big Data pinpoints the most vulnerable when first responders are overtaxed.

But some of the systems that help us survive can make us fragile in new ways. Two fundamental challenges are changing the disaster readiness landscape: Climate change, which increases the frequency and severity of extreme conditions and natural disasters; and a over-reliance on technology by connected society for whom information is inextricably linked to modern life.

The rising risk of an unpredictable climate

Climate change alters every facet of society, from safety to economics to national security. Architects used to build for a “hundred-year storm,” but now assume a storm of that magnitude will happen every decade. Forest fires are an annual norm. Some of the world’s biggest cities will be underwater. And climate refugees, displaced by lack of resources or simply the disappearance of their lands, present an international challenge.

Photo by Lucas Marcomini on Unsplash

Technology can help here, modeling data to predict weather and save lives and offering essential communications services to first responders and emergency workers. But those systems must be built to withstand disasters.

Relying too much on digital systems

The second source of fragility is our reliance on digital systems. More than a billion people use Google Maps every day to navigate — and most of us have long ago thrown out our maps.

Street View is available in much of the world today as part of Google Maps. (Source: https://www.statista.com/chart/11778/which-countries-have-google-street-view/)

Navy trainees learn to navigate by sextant, despite the power of radar and GPS. They know those systems, while convenient, can also become a vulnerability in times of conflict. The same is true of connected citizens: Just as you lose the strength of muscles you don’t use, you lose the skills you delegate to a prosthetic brain. And because today’s smartphones encourage us to delegate, our personal resiliency suffers.

Improving digital resiliency

How should we think about disaster readiness and emergency management in this new landscape? This is a big question for us in 2019, so we’ve added lots of related content:

  • In putting together the lineup for FWD50 this November, we reached out to experts in the field to pull together a workshop on disaster readiness that’s open to all FWD50 attendees with a Conference+Workshop ticket. We’ll tackle how to think about resiliency, both in terms of citizen preparedness and government response.
  • Indonesia has been using open data to help deal with emergencies. Yantisa Akhadi of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap is joining a panel to discuss the role of open compute, open source, and open data in building reliable services atop public data.
  • World-renowned security and IOT expert Alasdair Allan takes the stage to talk about how vulnerable many of our modern systems are in a talk that promises to be both provocative and controversial: Everything is Broken.
  • We’ve devoted one of our four Circlesquare topics to climate, disaster, and emergencies. This is a series of four interactive conversations, looking at how technologies like AI, sensors, open computing and clouds change the way we think about resiliency.

Want to join the discussion, and prepare for tomorrow’s crises by creating the tools, processes, and mindsets that help us survive? Grab a FWD50 ticket now.

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