Choose wisely: how computers can help us take better decisions in a disaster situation

Making choices is hard. Our brain is constantly weighing options in our everyday life: from light choices (what should I wear today?) to hard ones (should I change my professional career?). If this can get stressing in our daily context, imagine the pressure that emergency services feel under a disaster situation: firefighters going into a burning building, response teams rescuing people trapped at their homes in a flood, or removing the debris after an earthquake to save the people trapped underneath. In situations like these, every second counts, and every decision—or lack of it—can have fatal consequences.

To relieve some of this pressure and ensure a prompt and adequate response against disasters, emergency services follow a clear chain of command: the responders are in the ground of a disaster, while the Emergency Coordination Centres give them the directions they need to follow. They evaluate the situation, see the resources at hand and take decisions that will affect even thousands of people. If you were in their position, you would witness how every little help counts. And technology can help a great deal. That is why our partners at Answare are designing a system that will assist Emergency Coordination Centres in their decision-making process: the Decision Support System (DSS).

This software will help the Emergency Coordination Centres as soon as an upcoming emergency is detected. Thanks to the global information provided by the I-REACTOR—our computing service that processes weather predictions for the next 24 hours, emergency services reports, Copernicus EMS data, fire and flood risk maps, among others—, the I-REACT DSS will alert the Coordination Centres of potential disaster situations. Once the decision-makers at the Centre have verified this information, they can begin the arrangements for a potential emergency: issue public alerts, start preparing the responders… Buying some extra time to prepare for the emergency.

As soon as the water levels begin to rise, the storm hits the city, or the fire starts spreading, the access to real-time information becomes crucial for the Emergency Coordination Centres. While other services from I-REACT will offer emergency services all the available information (reports from first responders, geolocalisation or UAV observations, amongst many other services), the Decision Support System will also suggest tailored lines of action. Each Coordination Centre has carefully designed Action Plans, that arise from years of in-field experience and knowledge of the geographical area in which they act. The I-REACT DSS is able to integrate these protocols, to suggest the decision makers different options at their hands, based on the real-time updates and their Action Plans, so they can take best-informed decisions.

Emergency services face some of the toughest choices anyone can take. Our DSS cannot take the decisions for them, but it certainly will be of great assistance for those that work to keep us safe, and help them save lives in difficult situations.

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