As of August 2023, the U.S. has seen 15 weather- and climate-related disasters, with damages exceeding one billion dollars each. In such an overwhelming scenario, federal emergency assistance and disaster recovery efforts have been pushed to their limits as traditional emergency management methods struggle to cope with rising threats and limited resources.
To counter limited resources, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful tool in disaster management and relief efforts, offering a range of benefits that enhance efficiency, accuracy and responsiveness, particularly when combined with automation technology.
AI-powered automation operates independently and with humans to effectively tackle laborious, high-volume tasks and draw insights from disparate data sources. Quick and reliable, it eliminates manual intervention, reducing lengthy processes to mere minutes. It can also curate data and systems to enable disaster workers to be more effective at drawing insights and understanding.
AI-powered automation involves software that can emulate real-world actions, interact with digital systems, connect and curate data for insights and execute rules-based processes. This emerging technology can also leverage AI to automate tasks, make decisions and generate actionable insights, transforming how government agencies prepare for and respond to natural and human-caused disasters more quickly and efficiently.
Emerging Technologies for Disaster Resilience and Recovery
AI-powered automation alleviates disaster response teams’ workload by automating tedious aspects of their work and quickly connecting data to drive insights across multiple disparate systems. These benefits allow disaster response teams to prioritize protecting the communities they serve. For example, AI-powered automation’s ability to connect disparate data sources and handle high-volume, rule-based digital tasks makes it an ideal tool for managing the vast amount of data involved and rapid decisions required in disaster relief operations. Unattended automations can quickly gather, analyze and present data, equipping personnel with the most up-to-date data before even entering a disaster scene.
Furthermore, these automations decrease errors, increase delivery speed, boost data quality, minimize costs and simplify response processes.
AI-powered automation is also an effective tool for verifying things like grant eligibility and simplifying disaster fund distribution while keeping track of any erroneous payments or disbursements to the wrong recipient, which helps victims more rapidly recover their lives and ensures the benefits go to those who truly need them.
However, automation technology’s benefits for disaster management extend beyond paperwork and data analysis to areas where this emerging technology saves lives. For instance, AI-powered automation reduces human error and enhances communication between organizations and those affected, allowing targeted relief efforts to reach those in need more accurately and efficiently. For example, instead of spending hours answering calls or entering data, disaster response personnel can spend more time helping those affected. This added time will help speed restoration of normalcy in devastated communities.
After deploying AI-powered automation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initially focused on automating back-office tasks; however, agency leaders discovered that automation could also impact mission-centric activities. For instance, FEMA established an automated system that simplifies travel reconciliation for its employees, including emergency responders. Its importance comes into play when disaster strikes, as it allows deployed personnel to efficiently handle travel-related expenses, such as airfare and rental cars, and reach affected areas faster.
Additionally, FEMA’s automated payment reconciliation processes have helped streamline relief efforts and ensure timely payments to those affected by disasters – all while reducing payment errors. As we enter a period of increased activity for disaster recovery in general, FEMA continues to look for ways to push automation forward to support and augment mission outcomes and better help people cope with and overcome these tragedies.
Lastly, AI-powered chatbot automations are incredibly useful following disasters as they can quickly respond to requests and provide updates through natural language interactions. The chatbot communicates with the user while the automation handles the work 24/7 during an emergency. This includes fetching data, posting information to relevant systems and sending critical documents, such as disaster assistance applications. They can be used on various platforms and collect and process data from multiple sources, helping relief personnel inform and interact with the public accurately and promptly.
The Future of Disaster Response: Software Robots
Whether deployed alone or in combination with other emerging technologies, AI-powered automation remains an invaluable asset in disaster management. It can deliver disaster relief benefits faster, improve communication, reduce errors, streamline recovery data collection and analysis, and increase overall efficiency, all of which make a tremendous difference in disaster victims’ lives.