Study – Big data and technology in disasters: Better integration needed for effective response

In a recent review article published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, a group of Johns Hopkins’ authors evaluated 113 studies using predetermined criteria with the final search taking place on May 1, 2017. Search terms were created in consultation with medical librarians and subject matter experts in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), big data, and disasters. Only articles that implemented ICT and big data tools in real life were considered. (Table 1).


Disasters are becoming more commonplace and complex, and the challenges for rescue and humanitarian organizations increase. Increasingly these groups turn to big data to help provde solutions. The authors wished to examine how ICT tools and big data were being used in disaster responses. By conducting a structured literature search and developing a data extraction tool on the use of ICT and big data during disasters they showed that some important gaps exist which should be part of a future research focus.
Credit : Copyright: © 2018 Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2018.73

A data extraction tool was developed by subject matter and included the following items; first author and year, data type, disaster type, country. (Table 2).

The literature review identified some important gaps: more information is needed on the use of technologies. Most articles discussed the use of ICT in natural disasters which were mainly hurricanes and earthquakes. What was underreported was data on extreme temperatures and flooding, even though these events account for 27% and 26% of global deaths respectively.

Copyright: © 2018 Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2018.73

According to first author Dr. Jeffrey Freeman, “Disasters are inherently a Big Data challenge, and with the ubiquitous nature of cell phones, the rapid spread of connectivity, and the rise of technologies like the Internet of Things, the challenge is only going to get bigger. In disasters, the key question we face today is how do we harness a growingly diverse and often chaotic wave of data and information. Simply put, we’ve got to handle more data than we’ve ever had, and do so more quickly and effectively than we’ve ever done before. Big Data and ICT pose a serious challenge in disasters, but they also hold promise for potential solutions. The answer to leveraging the massive amounts of data that ICT is creating is likely to be found within the very same technologies driving the Information Age. But we have to think creatively about adapting and adopting these technologies in emergency situations. Disasters leave little room for trial and error. The consequences are too great.”

According to Dr. Dan Barnett (coauthor on the paper) “As a researcher of public health emergency preparedness and response systems, I’ve watched closely as the rate of innovation has frequently outpaced adoption in this field. If we are to be effective in responding to disasters and other public health emergency situations, we need to do a better job figuring out how technology can be integrated into disaster response.

In embarking on this integrative literature review, we knew information and communications technology (ICT) was present in disasters, and we knew people were using related technologies, but we didn’t know much else. As researchers, we wanted to more clearly understand how Big Data applications and ICT solutions were being used, and more importantly, we wanted to know where things went right and where things went wrong. These kinds of insights can move the state of the science forward, and ultimately, allow us to achieve a more effective response to disasters.

Technology and disasters have had a tenuous relationship. For those of us in the field, there has been a growing recognition that technology holds promise for enabling disaster response, but we’ve also watched as even the most basic of technologies, like phone service and electricity, has been crippled during the acute phase of a disaster. Technology holds little value in disasters if unavailable when it’s needed most. If we can understand more clearly how people want to use Big Data and ICT in disasters, then we can focus our efforts on ensuring those technologies are resilient and reliable under any circumstances.”

UK – London – Firefighter goes to South Sudan to improve fire safety in refugee camps

A firefighter from Hornsey Fire Station volunteered to spend two weeks providing fire safety advice in South Sudan.

Watch Manager Kathryn Duncan joined a team of six volunteers from the UK who worked for the United Nation’s International Organisation for Migration to run ‘train the trainer’ courses for UN camp staff.

The team, which was in Sudan in late November, worked with the site staff to set up and train community safety groups in each camp. They will, in turn, provide fire safety advice and first aid to thousands of camp occupants.

athryn’s team also carried out a fire safety assessment of a large displaced persons camp that has 120,000 occupants living in makeshift accommodation within a very small area. The camp also contains schools, hospitals and markets, which all create a substantial fire risk.

Risk of fire

Kathryn said: “I believe we can make a real difference to the number of fire injuries and deaths within the camps. The training we are delivering in fire prevention and firefighting will significantly improve the response they currently provide.”

Kathryn’s trip was supported by charity Fire Aid, which provides donations of fire and rescue equipment, training and expertise to over 40 countries. Kathryn was approached to be a trainer by Women in the Fire Service, a charity that promotes a culture of equality of opportunity and supports all women in achieving their full potential within fire and rescue services.

Fire Aid were approached by the International Organisation for Migration in 2017 with a request for fire safety assessments of refugee camps in South Sudan. Two representatives of Fire Aid visited South Sudan in March this year and carried out a site visit of a large camp. The charity found there was a risk of fire due to the construction and layout of the camps. The charity also found there were no community fire safety awareness activities and a limited organised fire response.

UK – Cambridgeshire – Fire officer who has advocated for a fully-inclusive community and workplace receives royal honour

A Cambridgeshire fire officer has been awarded an MBE by Her MajestyThe Queen in the New Year’s Honours list.

Station Commander Farsh Raoufi has been recognised for services to the community, especially in relation to equality and inclusion, both in his role with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) and as a volunteer.

Farsh said: “I am truly humbled to be given such a prestigious award and I would like to thank Her Majesty The Queen for this honour.

“I am only able to do what I do with the support and dedication of some great people, in both CFRS and the wider community. It is very much a team effort and I am proud to be part of it and give back to the community.”

Farsh’s passion for serving the community stems from his treatment by the community when he arrived in the UK at the age of 14. Having fled Iran after the revolution, he journeyed alone via Russia to the UK. He was welcomed and was supported through school, despite speaking limited English, by a Polish family. He then spent time as a youth worker before joining CFRS in 1991.

Farsh has played a key role in promoting the understanding of Islam to staff as well as being an active member of the Service’s Equality and Inclusion Network. This has involved ensuring proper evaluation of fire risk in the communities and securing appropriate personal protective equipment and uniform for female operational staff. He has supported pride and LGBT groups within the Service and advocated transparency of promotion and transfer processes, including mixed recruitment and selection panels, which has helped to build an inclusive and diverse workforce.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Strickland said: “I am delighted that Her Majesty The Queen has seen fit to honour Farsh. His service to the community, both with CFRS and as a volunteer, is something that merits such an award.

“Not only is Farsh an excellent fire officer, but his work in the community really sets him apart. Whatever challenge he faces, Farsh tackles it with enthusiasm and commits to bringing people together to get the best outcome. I, like the rest of the Service, am delighted that Farsh has been recognised for his contribution.”

Farsh quickly gained trust and respect as a practical, loyal and courageous firefighter, while also remaining true to his religious beliefs, actively role modelling to others, enabling them to feel more confident to be themselves in a traditional environment. This was personally challenging, especially when meeting the physical demands of his role whilst fasting for Ramadan.

Most recently as a community risk manager, Farsh has been based within the Safer Peterborough Partnership. He’s shown determination and drive to connect people from different areas and backgrounds and help communicate key safety information to vulnerable residents, resulting in a significant reduction of deaths and serious injuries in fires to members of BME communities in Peterborough. He has also recently been recognised as a Champion of Equality and Diversity at the annual Asian Fire Service Association.

Farsh has also volunteered for 17 years, acting as a role model and voice of reason to young people from different cultures. He has supported young people living in care and worked with the most persistent youth offenders to deliver education and life skills. He has provided advocacy for young people and vulnerable adults during police detention and interviews, helped to prepare for court hearings and provided translation services for police and other agencies. He has also worked as a Restorative Justice Facilitator, managing conflict by building relationships across communities.

Farsh concluded: “I am someone that is rarely lost for words, but to be recognised by Her Majesty for something I consider to be nothing more than my duty to the community, has me utterly speechless.”