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How Technology Plays a Role in the Harvey Relief Efforts

Is artificial intelligence growing too fast?

  • 31 August 2017
  • Author: TMcShane
  • Number of views: 1783

Technological innovations save lives and more in Houston

Hurricane Harvey brought with him a great test of American resilience. As he waited in the gulf, growing bigger and bigger, emergency and relief teams prepared. When the storm finally arrived, they were determined to make as big an impact as possible, and avoid the pitfalls that have complicated efforts in the past. Technological innovations since 2005 resulted in a more efficient response than that of Katrina.


                Emergency communications have improved since Katrina


                Often overlooked, emergency communications play a crucial role in natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. “Communication ranks up there with having fuel in the police cars”, Trey Forgety, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association (911), told Wired. The structural integrity of grids and networks are tested, and their performance against the elements can result in life or death for some victims…

                Luckily, we’ve seen more resilience than we did during Hurricane Katrina. When Katrina swept through New Orleans in 2005, it took with it more than 1,000 cell sites. This left millions of people without coverage, unable to connect with emergency services and loved ones. Since Hurricane Harvey took a few weeks to brew before smashing into Houston, companies including Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon had time to reinforce their existing networks, and plan for emergency, temporary cell sites to be deployed. This drastically reduced the disruption to communications, compared to that of Katrina, in which networks were not reinforced and flash floods resulting from broken levies simply demolished cell sites. It’s estimated that this time around, only about 4% of the city’s cell sites were destroyed.

                Emergency call services, better known as 9-1-1, also was well prepared for Harvey. The 9-1-1 team assembled crews of reserve dispatchers, ready to field calls when they stared to pour in. These special teams are important because most employees live locally and are either evacuating or have evacuated themselves. To close this gap in labor, managers assembled special teams that included calling in employees from surrounding regions. Their efforts have reduced hold times, increased response times and was all-together more effective than in 2005.


             Ecommerce to the rescue

                How are Americans using Amazon to contribute to the Harvey relief effort? Charities have begun receiving donations of items straight from their wish-list, shipped directly to their location. These items will go to help feed, clothe and rescue victims in Houston and surrounding areas handling the influx of evacuees, which includes thousands of people and animals. This new method of donation has made it very convenient and accessible to many, and has played a big part in gaining support from citizens throughout the nation. It brings transparency to the whole donation process, as Americans are able to see exactly where their dollars are going. They buy the items- diapers, toothpaste, dog food- then ship them straight to the charities where they can be distributed. But one question remains: with all of the severe weather and flooding, how long will it take these items to arrive?

                To expedite the process, Amazon has teamed up with American Red Cross and is utilizing their distribution centers and capabilities. Products are shipped directly to Red Cross where their teams allot them. Amazon went a step further and announced that they will match cash donations to the Red Cross made via Amazon- up to $1 million. Though this new form of contribution has been extremely helpful and will play a large part in future relief efforts, charities insist that monetary donations directly to the organizations still have the largest impact. So when you are considering how to donate, just keep in mind that while ecommerce may be more convenient, cash is still king.


Disaster recovery: implemented just in time


                This storm has shed light on the importance of developing an effective disaster recovery plan. Thousands of business’s data servers, workstations and other hardware were destroyed by floodwaters in Houston. Thankfully, there are many new solutions to data backup and recovery, including cloud storage and virtual replicating. The businesses that took the proper precautions and had a disaster recovery plan in place will benefit from an easier, much more complete restoration of their data. Unfortunately, those without backups will realize their data was forever washed away by the floods. Harvey has showed to us how essential backups and recovery plans are to business continuity, and that there’s no telling when an event might occur that demands these services. SIM2K has many disaster recovery and backup options available and can advise, create and support recovery plans that fit individual businesses. 


The exponential growth of artificial intelligence could be a problem

               Artificial intelligence has begun infiltrating almost every global market; from toothbrushes to fast food. It has ushered in a new era of problem solving and technological application, seemingly free from limitation, which is exactly why it has raised cautionary flags for many scientists. Elon Musk for one, has been very outspoken about the evolution of artificial intelligence, and the dangers it presents when integrated with weaponry. Some research into AI application has found a startling, nearly exponential trend of improved development over the years. For example, this chart shows the progress AI has made in image recognition as compared to a human in the last seven years, and this chart highlights AI’s growing chess prowess. In both these scenarios, and many more, artificial intelligence appears to surpass that of human beings.

                Now imaging you could take the incredible capabilities of AI and harness them to join the fight against computer hackers. That is exactly what our partners at Cylance have done. Human beings are incapable of what Cylance’s artificial intelligence and machine learning-based software can do. In a matter of seconds, it can determine the threat level of a file by comparing it to millions of other databased files to uncover any abnormalities- and it does this in real time. Humans can’t keep up with the endless signature updates and hash comparisons on their own because they are inundated with emerging information. Cylance performs this in real time by leveraging the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and has opened the gateway for the next generation of cybersecurity. Contact us at SIM2K to get the antivirus protection of the future

Tom X. McShane



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