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Preserving connectivity for disaster response: Enhancing our digital resilience

NewsDeeply PanelWhen disaster strikes, how can we recover quickly using technology? This was the topic of a panel discussion hosted by News Deeply, in which Global Resilience Institute CTO Mark Patterson took part.

Patterson, along with four other panelists from DATTO, The Weather Channel, CISCO TacOps, and UNICEF, discussed digital resilience in the face of more severe and more frequent disasters.

Digital resilience is the ability to preserve and restore communications and technology after a disruption. As our world increasingly becomes more interconnected, we become more and more reliant on technology. In the case of a disaster, such as after a large hurricane, having the connectivity made possible by 21st Century technology can greatly improve emergency response and recovery through the sharing of information and resumption of key activities and services.

How can we be more resilient while making use of the technology we have? The panelists — Datto CEO Austin McChord, The Weather Channel VP-Weather Business Solutions and Public Private Partnerships Mary Glackin, CISCO TacOps Network Consulting Lead Matt Runyan, UNICEF Data Strategist Emily Garin, — touched on a few key points:

  1. Preparation is key. 

Firstly, governments have a responsibility to make sure communities are connected in the first place. Being unable to access information, such as proper procedures in the case of Ebola, can put lives at a greater risk.

Secondly, knowing what to expect and planning ahead can make a big difference. Using digital tools to identify and anticipate the needs of your family, business, or community and working to have resources ahead of time will make recovery time that much faster.

Finally, we can be more prepared by training for loss of connectivity. [See GRI graduate researcher Ari Youngs’s blog post for how HAM radio operators with their experience of going off the grid can become resources in emergency communications.]

2. Responding agencies and organizations can and should coordinate with each other.

Not everyone needs to bring a satellite dish – if organizations could coordinate to each pick a role and do it well, we could have a more strategic distribution of resources.

3. We need to build back better than before.

We can bring in technology for response and recovery, but what happens later when the responding organization returns home? Affected communities need long term solutions instead of temporary fixes. We should learn from the failures in technology interdependencies to prevent and mitigate future failures.

One difficulty of implementing digital resilience includes convincing people to adopt resilient technology. It can be hard to get an entity like a small business to pay for the upfront costs of secure technologies when it is questionable if they will ever be needed. With the fast pace of technological advances, there is also the risk of technological obsolescence within just a few years. The panelists commented that clients are more likely to adopt resilient technology when paired with something else immediately useful, and added that the cost of not installing resilient technology can be much more costly.

In his final note regarding digital resilience, Patterson commented, “The thing that I would like to see going forward, to increase our resilience in this age of digital connectivity, is to leverage the altruistic traits that all societies have, in more powerful ways.”