Crisis Response: 6 Ways Big Data Can Help

Whether naturally occurring or man-made, crises and disasters bring chaos to the people in their path. Learn how governments, nonprofits, and businesses are using big data and analytics to respond in fast, efficient ways.
When Data Is Worth Billions
Assess Situations Quickly, Safely
Accelerate Reaction Time
Aid Disaster Survivors
Improve Disaster Relief

Natural disasters, economic upheavals, and illegal activities happen. Governments, law enforcement agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), and businesses are using big data and analytics to improve their ability to respond to crises in fast, efficient ways.

Organizations are changing the ways they collect data by using parallel processing to accelerate response times, using third-party data to improve the accuracy of insights, developing new algorithms and models to solve problems more effectively, and dispatching data-gathering drones into situations that would be unsafe for humans or animals. In many cases, the reaction times are reduced by an order of magnitude or more, such as from months to weeks, days, or even hours. But there's still a lot of work to do. When disaster strikes, time is of the essence.

"Our goal is to create as many efficiencies as possible to get on cases quicker. The earlier we intervene, the more future cases we're preventing," said Jim Cole in an interview. Cole is the national program manager for the Victim Identification Program, which runs out of the Homeland Security Investigations' Cyber Crimes Center, part of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

[See what happens when technology meets forest fires. Read Using Data To Fight Wildfires: An Inside Look.]

When natural disasters occur, big data enables fast and accurate decision-making. When aberrant human behavior is the problem, big data can speed the identification of the victims and the offenders.

"If you're the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and deciding whether you're sending people into [a disaster] area, you want to have all the information available so you can make the right choice. You may be sending people into an unsafe situation," said Ernest Earon, CTO and cofounder of drone and data company PrecisionHawk, in an interview. "When the people on the ground have better information, they can do their jobs faster and safer."

Crises drive headlines, but what happens behind the scenes isn't always as well known. We'll take you through recent crises -- manmade and natural -- to reveal how organizations are attempting to minimize and manage emergency situations. Once you've reviewed these examples, tell us what you think in the comments section below. Have you been involved in a crisis management or emergency situation? Were you able to use any of the tools and techniques highlighted here? What other options have worked for you?

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