Microsoft has a long history of working with leading humanitarian response organizations dedicated to disaster preparedness and recovery. This week we are proud to team up with Humanity Road to help raise awareness of resources, tools, and tips that can help you stay safe during a natural disaster. In this blog post, hear from Cat Graham of Humanity Road about “information as a form of aid” during a natural disaster.
By Cat Graham, vice president, Humanity Road
Are you hurricane ready? Becoming aware and staying informed during disaster is critical and at times, challenging. For officials, aid agencies and responders, getting the right information to and from the public just in time can be a matter of life and death.
Cat Graham, vice president, Humanity Road, monitors social media to assist those impacted by Hurricane Sandy (Image Credit: Humanity Road)
Information is a form of aid and often as essential as food and water. “Everyone deserves the right to call for help and have someone available to answer that call for help” says Chris Thompson, President and co-founder of Humanity Road, a volunteer-based public charity that harnesses the power of the internet and mobile-based technologies to help close communication gaps during disaster.
How can you become hurricane ready?
Be Aware – “Unlike some disasters that strike without warning, a hurricane is often forecast many days in advance by the folks at the National Hurricane Center in Miami,” says Lloyd Colston, director for Emergency Management for the City of Altus in Oklahoma, and head of Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador program at Humanity Road. “Be aware of your risks and stay tuned to weather alerts.”
Access http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ to monitor updates.
Take Action – There are many ways to help your community improve information-sharing. The National Hurricane Center issues warnings based on information collected by ocean buoys and satellites, but they also engage the public. One way is by engaging amateur radio operators, such as the Hurricane Watch Net (http://www.hwn.org/). Reports from the public are instantly relayed to forecasters who use the information to broadcast watches and warnings to the public.
Another way to take action is by volunteering with organizations like Humanity Road. Many employers, including Microsoft, have match programs for gifts of time or money. Since 2005, Microsoft employees in the U.S. have volunteered more than 2 million hours of their time to causes they care about.
Make a Plan – Where will you go if your local authorities issue an evacuation notice?
After Hurricane Sandy struck the Rockaways peninsula, Humanity Road deployed to assist the community command center room at St. Francis Church and School in Rockaway. “Gas was being rationed. There were no gas cans to be bought nearby – all stores were sold out,” says Thompson.
Nov 6, 2012 St. Francis de Sales Church, Rockaway, NY. Donations management was improved through the use of Facebook after Hurricane Sandy. (Image credit Humanity Road)
“As we arrived on Rockaway Peninsula, there was no power for 17 miles and no shelters. With power out, many citizens had no way to listen to radio, TV or even make a phone call. The local church youth started visiting citizens door by door inquiring on their needs and posting to Facebook which helped organize donation management.”
Technology and technology partners are essential services that empower information management and coordination during disaster response. “It’s a vital service,” states Thompson. “They help the public and responders communicate to improve the chain of care and recovery.”
This communications center in Rockaway, NY was powered by a car battery and helped over 48,000 people.
When you make your disaster plan, include how you will be communicating in different scenarios. How will you tell others you are no longer at home and where you went? Social media combined with GPS location services on your device may help. Send a quick “I am ok” note to social media or if you are checking on family ask “Are you ok?” Voice lines can become congested or fail, but often text messages will go through even after you turn off your phone. Turn off GPS and other apps when not needed to conserve battery. Meet with family and arrange preset times twice a day for contact to conserve battery and discuss this plan with your family and friends.
Make a Kit – Prepare a kit that addresses long term power outages along with the ability to communicate without telephones for days and weeks. A portable hand crank radio is important for news and weather reports but don’t forget to consider technology and communications as a key component. Research ways you can power your phone or device in a blackout, such as spare batteries, solar chargers or car battery converters. A few extra minutes planning your communications kit will help you be technology-ready when disaster strikes.
Ms. Graham is Vice President of Operations and cofounder of Humanity Road. She is an expert leading multinational digital response teams, social media emergency management and social media exercises. She has participated in the development of exercises for Florida’s Governor Hurricane Conference, Samoa, New Zealand, United States European Command, Pacific Command, and served as coordinator for the Digital Humanitarian Network. Ms. Graham has deployed to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Sandy.