August 27, 2011    /    by

Hurricane Irene: Using Technology to Prepare and Clean Up

Hurricanes are notorious for disabling technology by cutting off electricity. In some cases, the threat of coming storms can overwhelm our phone systems and websites. But technology is also being used in new ways to prepare for and clean up after natural disasters, like hurricane Irene.

Hurricanes are notorious for disabling technology by cutting off electricity. In some cases, the threat of coming storms can overwhelm our phone systems and websites. But technology is also being used in new ways to prepare for and clean up after natural disasters, like Hurricane Irene.

As Hurricane Irene made landfall in North Carolina on Saturday morning, millions of people up and down the East Coast braced for the worst. Despite reports that the storm had weakened, thousands of people were already evacuated and others who stayed on the coast lost power. Prior to the storm, Major League Baseball rescheduled games.  New Jersey even closed casinos for only the third time ever.

What to do?

Many websites offer quick tips and checklists to help before, during and after such weather emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers this checklist which helps you decide: Are You Ready?

Advanced technology is used by the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service and other organizations to understand hurricanes and their impacts.  

The Seattle Times offered some tips for communicating during Irene and other similar emergencies.  For example: “Cellphone companies recommend text messaging rather than calling in any disaster, because text messages use much less network capacity. They also don't use much battery power. Using Facebook and Twitter can be tempting, but try to keep usage brief and use the apps rather than web browsers if possible, to minimize network use and battery drain.”

Fox News Business offered these: Apps and Websites to Help Brace for Irene. I especially like their list of people (actually organizations) to add to your Twitter feed, from FEMA to NOAA to the the Red Cross.

 USA.gov offers these tips for recovering after hurricanes.

 Information Week reported on FEMA’s new mobile web app that can help during emergencies. I find this section to be very interesting:

   “FEMA built the application to work even when there is no mobile service so people can access the information they need to anytime on their device….

People can text PREPARE to 43362 (4FEMA) to sign up for monthly disaster safety tips; SHELTER+ their ZIP code to the same number to find the nearest shelter in their respective areas; and DRC and their ZIP code to the same number for information about the nearest disaster recovery center.”  

Government Actions:

  Governments up and down the East Coast have issued warnings, and they are implementing their preparation, evacuation & recovery plans. Offices of Public Safety are activating emergency centers and shelters, and information is being sent via a wide variety of channels, including new mobile web sources.

 For those who are not involved in the current Hurricane Irene emergency situation on the East Coast, teams are being sent from around the country to assist in the cleanup. Others are using this as an opportunity to stress hurricane readiness.

In summary, technology can help fight the negative impacts of hurricanes. Governments and citizens can learn the lessons from the past, and prepare for weather emergencies in new ways.