How far should we turn to tech in times of disaster?

Few question the role technology companies now play in our daily lives. However, in addition to responding to many of our everyday needs, tech has also now carved a growing position in disaster response.

The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey has seen a number of tech companies step up. Apple has added a donation button directly into iTunes and the iOS App Store, with proceeds going toward the American Red Cross. Google added Texas and Houston-specific alerts across its products with SOS Alerts that detail emergency phone numbers, relief fundraisers and maps. Amazon added a wish list of supplies that those affected by Harvey might need, so that users can send specific items to the Red Cross in lieu of a cash donation.

So – is there anything to worry about? For some of us, our instinct is to be wary. Surely disaster management and response is so clearly a job for the government that multi-billion pound companies creeping into leadership roles makes us wary.

Such a view should be rejected. The reality is that citizens – and governments – need all the help they can get in times of such crisis. What’s more, technology companies are unusually well-placed to support disaster response. They deliver instant connectivity to a growing majority of citizens; they have enormous fundraising and donation capabilities; and they are a hub of the latest technological breakthroughs that could help us respond now, and reduce risks for next time.

Going forward, and in considering the kinds of crises that may hit us over the next year – from winter flooding to terrorism to public disorder – we should not just recognise technology companies in our planning, but look for more ways to include them. Indeed, many already do. The momentum and appetite exists – it’s up to policymakers to best harness all that tech companies can offer at times of disaster.

The contributor is a Labour Party member

Bibliography

  • ‘You can donate to Harvey storm relief through Apple’s App Store and iTunes,’ TechCrunch 27th August 2017
  • ‘How tech companies are helping Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey,’ TechCrunch, 29th August 2017

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