Project OWL: A Tech Solution for Natural Disaster Management

Although we now have the technology to predict and anticipate natural disasters, we cannot prevent them from happening. Instead, we shift our focus on disaster management and how quickly we can respond and save lives. What usually happens after the passage of a hurricane or a typhoon, is that power grids and telecommunication networks would most likely be damaged or overwhelmed and without these, emergency responders would struggle to coordinates evacuations, find and help survivors, and even assess the number of casualties. In an effort to address this major issue a team of developers came up with a solution called Project OWL.

In 2018, IBM in partnership with David Clark Cause launched a global coding challenge named Call For Code – the largest tech-for-good of its kind – asking innovators to create practical, effective, and high-quality applications based on one or more IBM Cloud services, that could have an immediate and lasting impact on humanitarian issues. Bryan Knouse (CEO and Co-founder of Project OWL) and his team, were the winner of this contest.

Project OWL aims to restore communication and logistic capabilities to areas that have been affected by natural disasters, specifically hurricanes. It is a combination of hardware and software that leverage mesh network technologies with the IBM IoT (Internet of Things) platform. Basically, simple wireless devices establishing networks on the ground, enabling Softwares to be used.

On the one hand, we have the DuckLink hardware which are simple wireless devices that provide connectivity to tough environments; and on the other hand, we have OWL data management software, providing a simple to use toolset, for visualizing and managing your data and activity on the network.

How does all of it work? Whenever we want to connect to the internet at a restaurant or a hotel lobby, we first get a pop-up page asking for some information and to accept some terms before we can get to the internet. That little pop-up window exists in a space between being offline and the actual internet. It is that gray area that Project OWL uses as a huge opportunity to save lives.

The hardware/software solution works by harnessing low-power, long-range radio frequency called LoRa. LoRa units are combined with WiFi routers in waterproof buoys placed throughout the disaster area, to create a network that can link back with any rescue operation running the OWL software. if you are in an area with no internet or cellular service, by simply turning on your Wi-Fi, you are able to see Project OWL in the list of available networks. When clicking on it, instead of getting a pop-up page with terms and conditions to enter the web, you will get a page that will allow you to enter crucial information. Information like your name, location, how you are doing, what services you need, whether you need immediate assistance, or for emergency authorities to call family and friends to update them on your condition. (Source: WIRED)

With the Atlantic basin hurricane season starting on June 1st, Project OWL could be a crucial disaster management tool, to help first aid responders coordinate efforts. Moreover, on a global scale, this could be more beneficial in areas with frequent natural disasters and places with limited internet access or poor telecommunication infrastructure.

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