Why Information Sharing is Essential to Climate Resilience [Lessons from Superstorm Sandy]

When Sandy flooded New York and New Jersey, it destroyed key infrastructure for two lifeline sectors: fuel and transportation. What happened next reveals just how essential it is to share supply chain information in times of crisis.

Sandy’s saltwater surge damaged gasoline pumps and submerged entire fleets of service vehicles. Emergency responders had to find alternate sources of fuel, vehicles, and supplies, but there was no system in place to know which businesses were still operating. New York City officials turned to the gasoline price crowdsourcing app Gasbuddy to see which gas stations were open. Federal officials asked Hughes, a satellite provider for retail point-of-sale systems, to provide information on which of their customers still had power. Hughes made spreadsheets available showing the up/down status of its satellite dishes on gas stations, pharmacies, fast food outlets and hotels throughout the region. The willingness of these companies and their users to share data helped route emergency crews for a speedier recovery, inspiring a host of new data-sharing systems for emergency preparedness.

Since Sandy, non-profits and the public sector have sought to formalize data sharing for emergency preparation and response. In November, the US Department of Energy launched a crowdsourced app to help monitor the state of the electrical grid. Lantern Live is a free Android application that collects power outage data from utilities and combines it with user-submitted reports to provide a real-time map of grid damage and availability. The All Hazards Consortium (AHC), a non-profit focused on disaster planning and response, originally worked with Hughes to collect and distribute the spreadsheet used by federal officials for Sandy response. Since then, the AHC has worked with Hughes to build a live online map of all lifeline businesses and their open/closed status. The Fleet Open Closed service is being pilot-tested with private companies and members of the AHC Fleet Working Group this Spring.

Hurricane Sandy showed the vulnerability of lifeline sectors to a cascading supply chain failure. As we saw with Gasbuddy and Hughes, crowdsourcing and enterprise information sharing are essential for directing emergency responders. But data is only the beginning: it still takes hundreds of emails, phone calls, and in-person visits to confirm that supplies are available and to arrange for delivery. The next step is to streamline communications between supply chain stakeholders so that remergency response logistics can also be handled in real time and in the cloud.

At Sourcemap we've been working on a next-generation emergency response platform combining crowdsourced and enterprise data with a communications forum via web, smartphones and SMS. Want to learn more about our platform for emergency response and communication?