4 Ways Big Data is Revolutionizing Emergency Management

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Overlay of a city and a person holding a smartphoneAnalyzing and observing Big Data patterns is not only a beneficial practice within businesses, it can also improve the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency and disaster management organizations.  Thanks to the availability and usage of smartphones and social media, disasters can be measured with real-time information and met with a rapid, accurate and precise response. Big Data has the ability to enhance disaster recovery by utilizing community information and connecting victims with emergency responders and family.

Emergency personnel can minimize their search time and maximize their recovery time when they have access to real-time information emphasizing the areas most affected. Working along with professional insight and satellite imagery, Big Data has started trends that have already saved lives and proven effective within the emergency management field.

Crisis Mapping

Ushahidi, a non-profit company that creates open-source software for gathering information, developed and utilized an interactive mapping platform in 2008 that plotted violent areas following the Kenyan presidential election. They gathered information from eyewitness sources via online platforms, and plotted them on a Google map to help those in danger navigate their way to safety.

Ushahidi was experimenting with crisis mapping: the real-time creation and display of reports submitted through email, text message and social media on interactive geographical maps. They implemented it again during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and it resulted in many victims being rescued by first responders. The U.S. Marine Corps, who was first on the scene, felt that the crisis mapping assisted them in quickly locating and recovering victims.

In order for crisis mapping to be effective, those in disaster zones have to partake in Big Data collection by providing as much reliable information as they can so that organizations like Ushahidi can make it publicly available. Disasters can separate people from their families, and trends like crisis mapping just may help emergency responders find them.

Connecting Missing People with Their Families

Companies like Google and Facebook are also interested in helping communities during emergency situations, particularly in reducing recovery time. They have implemented online systems specific to connecting people with their loved ones during and after disasters in real-time.

Immediately following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Google released its “Person Finder” feature. This allows for an immediate way to reconnect post-disaster. In short, anyone can enter information related to missing people in an attempt to connect themselves or others with those they are looking for. Within the first two days after the earthquake, Person Finder was updated 5,300 times as people searched for friends and family caught in the affected area.

Another example is Facebook’s “Safety Check Service”. It’s an active service that reaches out to people who are near disaster areas to discover if they are safe and to ask for more real-time information regarding the situation. These services employ Big Data as a recovery tool.

Social Media Mining

Emergency management organizations like FEMA and Red Cross have noticed Big Data can help fill in gaps of information that may be crucial to a rapid response. When disasters like a flood hit communities hard enough to cause an evacuation, it’s important to know what roads are open, where gas is available and if anyone is trapped.

Although satellite imagery is effective, it isn’t always available and may not show the whole picture. Eyewitness level pictures and posts via social media from the affected area, however, can be extremely effective in showing potential hazardous locations. Utilizing satellite and social media information in tandem provides responders with a clearer picture of the situation that may not be as easily seen from one point of view.

Event Simulations

Emergency management organizations also practice for when actual disasters occur. Unfortunately they have suffered in the past from a lack of realistic statistics that feed the simulations. With big data, safety professionals can better prepare these disaster simulations for more accurate implementations.

Large batches of data improve emergency preparedness by analyzing previous disasters’ statistics. They assist organizations in visualizing what worked and didn’t work with more precise data. Until recently, emergency action plans often had to wait until an actual disaster occurred to test their effectiveness because the simulations didn’t accurately represent the possible results. Now big data is helping organizations understand exactly what they are up against before it happens.

Big Data and Emergency Management Go Together

Whether it is through crisis mapping or event simulation, Big Data is pioneering new methods of emergency management. It uses the analysis of information gathered from the community in real-time to assist those in need and those looking for loved ones lost in disasters. Big Data and emergency management’s newfound progressive relationship opens up new career opportunities for those who want to find innovative ways to help others.

Learn More

Earning a master’s in emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University can help you increase your knowledge of the safety industry and demonstrate a continued commitment to learning and leadership. Whether you aspire to work at the governmental level or move into the private sector, our distinguished faculty of safety professionals delivers a comprehensive curriculum that can translate wherever safety matters most.

Recommended Readings

The Benefits & Challenges of Using Artificial Intelligence for Emergency Management

The Basics Of Security Management

The Fundamentals of Emergency Management


Forbes.com, “Crisis Maps: Harnessing the Power of Big Data to Deliver Humanitarian Assistance”
Forbes.com, “Using Big Data In A Crisis: Nepal Earthquake”
Govtech.com, “How Emergency Managers Can Benefit from Big Data”
GCN.com, “6 big data projects to aid disaster response”
Sciencedaily.com, “Mining Social Media Data can Help Improve Disaster Response Efforts”
NSF.gov, “New U.S.-Japan collaborations bring Big Data approaches to disaster response”
Google.org, “Google Person Finder”