Information and communications technology, or ICT, is critical to effective emergency response in a situation as dynamic and serious as a widespread natural disaster.

In the 2013 World Disasters Report, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS) wrote that access to technology is as important as food and water in emergency response.

The importance of technology during disasters can also be seen in a research paper studying the impact of information technology on state emergency management departments, which found that implementing technology had been effective in all phases of emergency management, especially during the response phase.

Further in the World Disasters Report, the IFRCS discusses the benefits of that smartphones have over traditional VHF radios, citing that they are “smaller, lighter and vastly more capable – and often much cheaper.” With the advent of cloud servers, smartphone-based information can also be independent of and unaffected by damaged local infrastructure. The New Zealand Red Cross has also succeeded in freeing smartphones from reliance on cellular infrastructure, implementing WiFi meshes using “store and forward” data and sending texts by satellite, keeping those in the field connected during the aftermath phase.

Lightship Works, a British Columbia-based Canadian company, builds multi-platform communications and data management software that can be easily scaled and utilized across multiple agencies during a disaster scenario. Using the Lightship product suite, agencies can monitor and coordinate responders in the field, allow field teams to collect and upload data instantly through their own smartphone (or other networked device), and also integrate live feeds from a variety of industrial and weather sensors.

Last year, the importance of integrated communications was illustrated with the roll-out of emergency exercises along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, throughout the Pacific Northwest in the United States and BC. In the Canadian exercise, dubbed Exercise Coastal Response, Lightship was tested by government and community agencies to coordinate communication, information sharing, and response to a hypothetical magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurring off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State. Lightship was typically able to integrate into and enhance existing response procedures within a matter of hours, and proved effective in streamlining communications, field data capture, and data sharing.

Building on this work, Lightship recently won a contract from the Build In Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) to expand its platform across over 20 local, provincial and federal agencies working to coordinate emergency management. The Canadian Government along with Emergency Management BC, the BC Ministry of Environment, and several other agencies and local governments across BC, are collaborating with Lightship on this project to establish a ‘common operating picture’ that aggregates and visualizes data from multiple distinct sources, then integrates this information with data collection and communications. This technology will support streamlined information sharing and unified communication in upcoming emergency scenarios and live events during which every moment counts.