Most natural disasters come upon us in an unprecedented tone. It becomes awfully difficult to come to terms with the damage that natural disasters cause to human lives and resources. And if you put a pandemic into the mix, like it happened this year, the means and resilience to deal with the fallout will be stretched to their limits. 

In May and June this year, even as India was in the thick of a survival battle against Covid-19, Cyclone Amphan and Cyclone Nisarga hit its eastern and western coasts. Cyclone Amphan made landfall in the eastern coastal regions of West Bengal and Odisha, leaving trails of immense damage. The local residents were deprived of the most basic necessities for survival. Medical facilities were inaccessible due to flooded streets and zero means of connectivity. 

Situations like these highlight the immediate need for preparedness to prevent post-disaster consequences. There is a strong need to rise from this sense of vulnerability and make our communities anti-fragile.

In urban locations, substitute for energy supplies is made available or the system is restored quickly enough. Unfortunately, for many of the rural areas that are dependent on easily disrupted supply chains, it takes a considerable amount of time before the same is restored. A deliberate process of usability, availability, and security needs to be brought into the scenario. 

Utilities in today’s times are at a higher risk of extreme weather events. Consider 2017’s Hurricane Irma; it made a disastrous landfall in the Caribbean and then in Florida. It was estimated that Irma left damages of over $50 billion in its wake. The risk of such hurricanes has been on a constant rise in recent times, and with that the risk to utilities. Reportedly, 44 power plants were in flooded areas in Hurricane Irene and 69 were in flooded areas in Hurricane Sandy. When Hurricane Harvey struck in Houston, more than 6,200 distribution poles and 850 transmission structures were damaged. These numbers are very concerning and we need better solutions to prevent further damage. This article reflects on how artificial intelligence is a viable option that will potentially prevent massive loss of lives and resources while at the same time make rescue efforts efficient.

Many of these natural disasters are a direct result of the rapid rate and magnitude of climate change, to a large degree brought on through the environmental degradation that human activities have caused. We cannot beat the occurrences that nature throws at us, but we can make our communities anti-fragile. The human intellect and ability to innovate through hardship is the silver lining in an increasingly gloomy sky. Technology has an important role to play in providing the necessary situational awareness that then shapes crucial, practical, and life-saving decisions for effective crisis management. 

With a mission to make our communities anti-fragile, Dr Sayonsom Chanda invented a patent-pending technology that can predict how much time those at risk and electric utility companies have before a cyclone hits and knocks the lights out. For electric utility companies, this data is critical so they can keep their repair crew and inventory at strategic locations, which in turn will enable them  to quickly facilitate the repairs and reduce the hours of darkness. 

Dr Chanda believes that the same technology can help everyone make plans for storing water, getting candles and emergency lamps, charging up phones, and so on. In the poorest parts of the country, the predicted data can inform NGOs or disaster-relief organisations about how many phone chargers, emergency lamps,  etc., will be needed for distribution. It can also help villages and block development offices by delivering a proper plan to supply generators to poor nursing homes and emergency homes in remote areas, and diesel-operated pumps to keep their crucial agricultural activities on schedule. 

It was this belief that led Dr Chanda to set up Sync Energy, a company he co-founded with Robert Kabera, a Stanford University graduate and Forbes 30-under-30 entrepreneur from Rwanda, Africa. Summing up the philosophy underlying their journey to make the world a safer and more secure place, Dr Chanda articulates: ‘If the roof is to fall on our heads, we need to know when and how – that way we can either fix it or buy the right helmets.’ 

Robert, who had survived the infamous 1994 genocide, is acutely aware of the many problems of the changing world order. Reiterating the ‘anti-fragile’ aspect, he says: ‘Anti-fragility: that’s our theme song for survival in the 21st century. We need to tell ourselves we are not weak and we will not be wiped away. At the very core, Sync Energy is solving the pain point of electricity disconnection due to disaster events, before the incidents occur. Our AI and ML platform seeks to make the electric grid anti-fragile and its operators proactive.’

There is no denying the point that with predictive technologies we can be prepared to save lives and resources when natural disasters strike. We cannot fight nature but being prepared can shield us from the full extent of its wrath. For this we need to leverage as much data and artificial intelligence as possible to prepare efficiently.

Kashti Mishra is an Indian author who writes primarily about current environmental and political affairs along with lifestyle blogs. She holds strong opinions and beliefs about the functions around us.
You can reach her at kashtimishra8100@gmail.com