Collaboration is key in natural disaster response

Hexagon's Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division

By David Dennis*
Wednesday, 01 February, 2023

Collaboration is key in natural disaster response

It’s the wet season in north-eastern Australia, and the forecast calls for a deluge. It’s always rainy this time of year, but catastrophic flooding seems to come more often with global climate change.

The emergency operations centre (EOC) in a metro area is ready to coordinate response, but the flooding is likely to impact a broad swathe of urban and rural areas, crossing numerous jurisdictional boundaries in the region.

In years past, a major flooding event would force the EOC commander to pull the emergency operations plan off the shelf and look up dozens of phone numbers to coordinate with myriad agencies that might be affected as the water rises — police, fire departments, state emergency services, utilities, transportation departments, hospitals, ambulance services and the Red Cross. It’s a gamble that all the contact information will be up-to-date since the last disaster.

But this metro EOC has just upgraded its technology, installing a cloud collaboration portal with assistive artificial intelligence. The EOC commander sends an email blast to a host of local, state and federal departments and agencies, providing them with a link that syncs into the portal with a few mouse clicks.

Almost instantly, they’re all on the same page. The weather bureau’s alerts go out to everyone, and the water utility can share its data on where the local rivers are in danger of overflowing their banks. Power companies can advise when poles are down and service is out. The transportation department can let everyone know when roads are closed. Emergency service organisations can broadcast event information and where units are deployed. As the water rises and people are displaced, the EOC can loop in the Red Cross, alerting them to set up evacuation centres in the hardest hit areas.

As the deluge develops, there’s a deluge of data as well. That can be overwhelming for the decision-makers managing the crisis. That’s where assistive AI comes in.

In the background, the AI is taking it all in, looking for potential problems in advance — rain totals pushing rivers towards flood stage, road closures that might affect response times — so agencies can adapt and resources can be put in place sooner rather than later.

With climate change comes more monsoons, flooding, bushfires, tornadoes and cyclones. In all those scenarios, time is of the essence for first responders, so collaboration is key.

Anyone involved in disaster response knows that disparate agencies across multiple jurisdictions aren’t going to be using the same systems, and coordinating response by a hodgepodge of telephone, radio and email just isn’t efficient.

The beauty of cloud-based collaboration is that everyone doesn’t have to be on the same system to be on the same page during a crisis. All they need is a computer with a web browser, and they can communicate and collaborate with every other agency that’s been linked into the interface.

There are no worries about accidentally sharing proprietary data. The user can share as much or as little data is needed, and access by other agencies is restricted and temporary.

And when the clouds part and the disaster is over, the EOC can go back to ‘blue sky’ mode, using its AI and other features to learn from the last one and plan for the next one.

For more information on cloud-based collaboration, visit

*David Dennis is a senior business development manager for Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure and Geospatial division.

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