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Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, volcanic eruptions and tornadoes are constant threats to society. While they have always happened, humans are now on the scene. Human lives and property are constantly threatened. Such risks are further amplified along coastlines, fault lines, volcanic regions, or flood zones. Craig Fugate is the former FEMA Administrator under President Obama and one of the most effective emergency managers in the world (period). Fugate has become a close colleague and recently accepted my invitation to visit the University of Georgia. He spoke about his new role as Chief Emergency Management Officer at One Concern. After further research, I realized that One Concern was employing rather innovative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to disaster recovery. Their website notes:
Our technology assigns a unique, verified “digital fingerprint” to every natural or manmade element from the smallest rock to complete structures to mega cities. We’re modeling complex systems across all spheres of influence, constructed from hyperlocal data and multi-scaled to the entire world. We provide insights across the entire time horizon whether its days before a hurricane, minutes after an earthquake, or a 20 year plan to build a resilient community.
I reached out to One Concern Communications Lead Ben Columbo for a closer look at how AI might save your life (or mine) after a disaster.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd: You are using Artificial Intelligence in disaster recovery. What is AI if you were explaining to your aunt?
Ben Columbo: At One Concern we use the power of AI to predict the impact of disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and fires at a hyper local level, in near real time. Our vision is that through the application of artificial intelligence it will be possible to create planetary-scale resilience, where everyone lives in a safer, more sustainable and more equitable world. Artificial intelligence is enabling this, because it allows us to dynamically analyze vast amounts of disparate data extremely fast. At the same time, the more data we feed our system, the more effective it gets at recognizing patterns and making accurate, high resolution damage predictions. Through our software platform, these insights are the foundation of how we help our customers address the threats of natural disasters and build more resilient organizations and communities.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd: What exactly is your goal, and why is AI needed?
One Concern’s mission is to save lives and livelihoods before, during and after natural disasters. During extreme events, there are so many variables that could affect the outcome at a particular location, be it earthquake-induced building damage, flood-related business interruption or loss of access to critical resources. Sifting through millions and sometimes billions of data points within minutes and being able to come up with critical decision support systems, which are aligned with high level priorities is nearly impossible without systems like AI. The problem is amplified by orders of magnitude when you’re talking about saving lives, or predicting the cascading failures of critical infrastructure. This is why AI is so important. Unlike more traditional models, that are often static, computationally intensive, or low resolution, artificial intelligence is able to empower our customers in government and the private sector with insights into how disasters are likely to affect their specific assets at a block by block level.
Ben Columbo: You are a relatively new company. I tend to focus on weather and climate events. Are there particularly challenges that certain weather events pose for recovery?
All weather events and natural hazards pose their own unique challenges and every incident is different. Coupled with long-term shifts in weather patterns caused by climate change this helps explain why we increasingly face situations where traditional flood maps, or damage maps do not accurately describe the extent or unique characteristics of a given event – having a 500 year flood every year obviously means something is broken. AI is particularly well suited to address this problem. Since our models are dynamic, every time a weather forecast is updated our flood inundation, or fire spread, predictions update as well. This allows emergency responders and risk managers to prepare for, respond to and ultimately recover from disasters more effectively.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd: Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is involved with your efforts. How so?
Ben Columbo: Craig Fugate is the Chief Emergency Management Officer of One Concern and a member of our executive team. It’s such an honor to work with him everyday. His experience managing the effect of major disasters and the perspective he provides about what is going to most help our customers in the emergency and risk management communities, across both the public and private sectors, as they seek to make their organizations more resilient is invaluable.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd: There is an intriguing story about one of the company Founders, a rooftop, and flood. Can you share what happened and what that led to.
As told to Ben Columbo by One Concern CEO Ahmad Want: In 2014, I returned home to Kashmir to get engaged. On the first night that I was home there was a terrible flood in the middle of the night. My family had to take refuge on the roof of our house and were stranded there, surrounded by flood waters for seven days. As scary as that was, I was one of the lucky ones. Many neighbors and people all across Kashmir lost their lives. This experience made me realize that society is far more vulnerable to disasters than it needs to be and it put me on a path to trying to solve this problem, which in turn led to the founding of One Concern.
February 7, 2019 at 08:55AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs