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The Role of Innovation in Natural Hazard Prevention

By José Otero - Skyalert Mexico and USA
Chief Operating Officer


José Otero By José Otero | Chief Operating Officer - Tue, 06/06/2023 - 09:00

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Pushing boundaries and raising the bar is the mission of innovators. To change the status quo and being able to cross the threshold is what drives companies in tech areas. In that sense, innovation is a gateway.

Based on one of its most technical definitions (telecommunications), gateways are elements of a network that let useful data flow but also allow better communication and to implement better  suited protocols for protection and prevention. All with the goal of improving performance and making smarter decisions.

This technical standpoint speaks volumes about the power of technological innovation. This concept is the mere foundation of why people, companies, and societies continue to rely on innovation not only for economic, scientific, cultural and technological development, but also to protect all that we have accomplished.

In simpler words, innovation pushes us forward to create solutions to old and new problems while also helping us to react and adapt to the unexpected.

Among the "unexpected," of course, are natural hazards and the disasters that create a ripple effect in our communities and have an effect on several economic and social levels. And now that the world is more connected and digitized than ever, concerns about their impact have grown among citizens, leaders, and innovators alike.

Some researchers state that the number of “natural disasters” globally has increased over the past 60 years. In addition, an AON Plc report mentions that, just last year, these disasters caused a US$313 billion global economic loss. Considering all variables and criteria to measure the impact of these events, it is obvious to see the increasing importance of innovation to mitigate their effects.

According to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), "disaster risk reduction requires a multi-hazard approach and inclusive risk-informed decision-making," which among many other efforts and actions, includes investing, engaging and supporting research and innovation, as well as technological development.

Here is where we encounter the concept of social innovation. Social innovation, just like its name implies, has a human component that can determine how effective our technologies can be.

At SkyAlert, we have worked for over a decade on creating and perfecting  technological solutions that can provide timely and valuable information in countries with high seismic activity, such as Mexico and the US. But during this time, we have also learned that innovation in this sector is undeniably linked to the mission of fostering a culture of prevention.

One clear example is how we are committed to shifting the paradigm in natural hazard management and prevention: how it is conceptualized.

Whenever we think about events like earthquakes, floods, storms, and even droughts, the word “disaster” always comes to mind, firstly because of the drastic and tragic consequences they can have on our communities.

It is true that there is now more awareness about how our footprint affects the environment, but it is also true that some of these disasters, specifically earthquakes, are beyond our control. We are not able to predict when or to what degree they will strike us.

For that reason, it is vital for communities to change their own understanding of natural disasters and start using tools and technology that can reduce their impact.

Mexico is a nation that has worked hard to create a solid culture of prevention. Earthquakes experienced by recent generations, like those registered in 1985, 2012, 2017, and 2019, have been embedded in the collective memory of millions of citizens who are very aware of how crucial preparedness is amid any kind of emergency.

With this in mind, at SkyAlert we believe the first step toward social innovation in natural hazards management and prevention is to differentiate between "hazard" and "disaster."

Disasters occur when there is a lack of prevention or safety protocols, when decision-making for economic and city infrastructure does not take preparedness into account, and mostly, when citizens do not have access to information to react accordingly.

Hazards are ever-present and natural. They are possible and probable risks. We cannot avoid them, but we can improve frameworks, protocols and tech resources to prevent hazards from becoming disasters.This mindset is what can catalyze social innovation.

As stated in an article by John Roome, Senior Director for Climate Change at the World Bank Group, “smart investments in preparedness and resilience can keep natural hazards from becoming human catastrophes, but accurate and reliable disaster risk information is needed to make them possible.

As leaders in our industry, we are certain that innovation is more than just technology enabled by apps and software. Innovation is about creating gateways for better communication and implementation of crucial data. As social innovators, we come up with new ideas and solutions because we have arrived at the conclusion that information can save lives, and we need more and better ways to leverage it. It should be accessible from anywhere, for everyone at any time.

Photo by:   José Otero

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