During Hurricane Harvey, for example, a group of computer coders working for Sketch City, an organization that uses technology for public decision-making, helped 6,000 people find shelter with a mobile texting program built overnight.
Unfortunately, these kinds of tech-based solutions are a long way from being deployed in every disaster scenario — particularly when it comes to public sector use. Raising awareness about how effective new technologies have been on a large scale is key in pushing them forward. But it also requires us working together with technology for the biggest impact.
"If you're using drones to do rapid bridge inspections," Schlegelmilch says, "you still need people to look at the footage to interpret things that a computer can't." It's in the coordination of man and machine that we'll see great strides in life-saving technologies. But only if we use them. "Tech is similar to research," he says. "If it's not having an impact on policy and preparedness, then what's the point?"
In general, though, Schlegelmilch believes that cities are better prepared than they used to be. And local governments are making strides in communication: "Folks are catching on to social media, partly because it's user-generated content. There's a lot you can do without having to rewire an entire agency."
A well-rounded approach to preparedness
When it comes to preparing for extreme weather, Desiree Matel-Anderson, founder of disaster-solution company Field Innovation Team, advises a layered approach. "Look at what kinds of hazards you have in your area and go online and look at maps that exist from public resources about your regional hazards," she says. Once you've identified the threats, finding the tools to help you better protect your family and property will be far simpler.
Of course, here at Esurance, we're all about helping customers prepare for whatever life throws their way. Our advice? First, make sure you have your homeowners insurance buckled up and that you're planning ahead for the essentials — ensuring personal safety for yourself and your family, and protecting and documenting your irreplaceable valuables.
- Have evacuation and communication plans in place.
- Charge electronics, like cell phones and tablets, to stay in touch with storm and recovery progress and with friends and family.
- Invest in cell battery backups so you can stay on top of warnings and alerts.
- Download apps to alert you of impending severe weather and evacuation routes. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a good one, but many local communities offer their own versions.
- Stock up on basic supplies, like non-perishables, water, first-aid supplies, and batteries.
- For hurricanes and other water-related weather, reduce your flood risks with a sump pump (with battery backup), sandbags, and hurricane shutters or plywood for the windows. Place valuables high off the ground.
Once you have the basics covered, consider some high-tech solutions that could make preparation and recovery easier on you and your home. Here are some tips:
- Invest in smart home sensors and alert devices, which can alert you to impending damage from fire, water, and other hazards. It may just be the excuse you need to finally buy that digital personal assistant or the smart fire alarms you've been eyeing.
- Angle security systems and Wi-Fi-enabled cameras toward the street to keep tabs on activity around your home. You may be able to spot dangerous conditions like live wires or even downed trees, allowing you to check on your surroundings before heading outdoors. In case of evacuation, you can also monitor damage to your home and know when it's safe to return.
- Find an app that enables Wi-Fi calling and make sure you know how to use it. Cellphone towers often go down in the event of a disaster, but Wi-Fi through cable is relatively reliable.
Esurance conducted an online survey from May 16, 2018, through May 26, 2018, of 1,006 Americans aged 25 and older. 525 survey respondents were from the 20 states with the highest number of $1 billion storms in the past 5 years based on NOAA data. The remainder are a national sample.