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IoT and AI can help improve responsiveness to current and future Critical Events

In coping with the current crisis, the need for accurate and actionable information is paramount for an effective response – but there has never before been a scenario like the current COVID-19 pandemic. In case of a critical event, whether it is an active shooter, natural disaster or pandemic, access to information is vital.

One crucial lesson that emergency responders have learned from simulations is that information is often too fragmented to provide actionable intelligence: the larger the incident, the more complicated it is to collect and assess information and coordinate a response.

There are, however, many tools available to tame this complexity for more rapid and effective response and to minimise impact on responders. These generally address four stages of response management.

In the first, they gather data from various sources to help assess the context and severity of a critical event, calling upon analytical tools to digest and correlate data to help response teams understand what is happening now and what could or will happen later. A second stage locates assets, employees or vital equipment. In a third stage, these systems offer emergency responders and organisations the tools to act by informing people of actions to take, mass-scale notifications for people in affected areas and tools for collaboration between response teams. The final stage enables responders and others concerned to review and evaluate the critical event so that future response can be improved.

Incident response management platforms are often homegrown among responsible agencies and organisations, but technology providers exist to support efforts. Some of these technologies consolidate functionality for all four stages into a single system. Everbridge, for example, began with a focus on multi-modal text messaging after the tragic events of 9/11 and expanded into a platform used in 2012 to notify 10 million people after Hurricane Sandy, and in 2013 by the city of Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings.

As reported, Increasingly these platforms are embracing IoT systems and devices, given the expanded capability among a wide variety of endpoints that responders can use to connect directly with critical information, guidance and communication with those affected by an emergency. In particular, IoT can play an essential part in the information-gathering process. In a 2019 study, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) examined the possibilities of the use of IoT in emergency situations and identified a number of use cases such as emergency calling, mission-critical communications for situational awareness or to protect responder personnel, essential logistics support public warning systems and automated emergency response.

In smart buildings and smart cities, sensors can provide details about temperature, toxic gases and other hazardous conditions. Smart streetlights can analyse traffic congestion and plan evacuation routes through AI analytics. Body cameras can relay live intelligence from public safety workers to the Incident Command Center (ICS), while crisis teams can use IoT wearables to warn and guide civilians.

Artificial intelligence technology is used in several ways to diagnose, respond to or predict coronavirus spread. The radiology department of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China, has modified its AI-driven software to detect cancer in CT lung scans to detect COVID-19-related signs of pneumonia.  This is to aid the overworked medics in triage, while in the United States, the Boston Children’s Hospital has created an AI-driven coronavirus map.

The Chinese search engine Baidu has made its Linearfold algorithm available to researchers and medical teams to fight the outbreak to assist in the analysis of the virus, while across the world researchers are turning to AI technology to predict its spread.

Even when everybody understands that it is vital to track data on people’s condition and location during the current times, but it has a definite privacy impact.

The privacy issues are relevant to technology providers, which also see a growing trend among companies that want to know which employee is in which location. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, employers may want to see which employee has been in close proximity to a person who has tested positive for the virus.

However, technology’s role in containing and mitigating the virus in the absence of a rapid and reliable diagnostic tool cannot be undermined. It lets governments respond and recover from the global pandemic which would have been a more herculean task than it already is.

Technology providers who are seeking to improve response, stewardship of sensitive data and transparency of processes moving forward must understand that establishing trust and confidence amongst people is of paramount importance.

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