From the earthquake in Nepal to Hurricane Joaquin’s flooding in South Carolina, so-called natural disasters are an every day part of the planet. But whether it’s due to climate change concerns or luck of the thousand-year-storm draw, there’s little doubt that more and more people (thanks to broader news coverage of these events) are gearing up for the worst.
One of the tools being placed in disaster management officials’ toolboxes is a new AI software that is working to help speed up the response time and the recovery time for victims trapped in a disaster, namely a large-scale earthquake. A California-based startup, home of some of the worst US earthquakes and supposedly a ticking time bomb for the next large scale geological disaster, is using insane amounts of construction data to help rescuers focus their efforts and find the most likely-to-survive victims.
Their software, OneConcern, maps the data of neighborhoods, taking into account not only things like the building materials and resulting structural integrity of the homes themselves, but also looks at the age of the buildings in that neighborhood. This would help the program create a clearer picture of which neighborhoods are most likely to have suffered the most intense damage, while also helping them predict which areas would be the hardest hit, the most likely to have living casualties trapped in the rubble, and other vital information. This can direct first responders to the most likely areas with the greatest need first.
At the same time, other issues are factored into the data. Does this neighborhood have a school, and did the quake cause destruction during school hours? Are there hospitals or nursing homes in the vicinity? That’s where responders should start, as there are likely to be hundreds of living, trapped victims.
While critics could argue about the triage nature of using a heartless computer to direct very real rescue efforts–basically saying, “This neighborhood stood no chance of withstanding an earthquake of this magnitude and at this epicenter, so you should focus your efforts over in this location instead”–the cold reality is there is a desperate window in which the chances of survival continue to decrease with every passing minute. Software that helps responders make their time and efforts more efficient stands to increase the number of people who survive following this type of event.