CBi workstream

Innovation and new technologies

Innovation is critical to the future well-being of societies and will provide opportunities for both humanitarian and development work. The Fourth Industrial Revolution —characterised by disruptive technologies such as as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Internet of Things and blockchain, and innovations in areas of robotics, 3D printing and drone technologyare transforming many areas, including disaster risk reduction and disaster management.

Rapid advancements in digital infrastructure and increasing spread of devices, especially wireless broadband networks, smartphones and cloud computing, are creating fertile conditions for the application of disruptive technologies for disaster management. While still in their early years, these have already changed the way we work, live and interact. As these technologies develop further, gain a wider reach and become cheaper, the pace of transformation will only accelerate.

Through the disruptive technologies, we can gain information and intelligence we did not have before, share it more quickly, communicate it through new means, improve understanding of the causes of disasters, enhance early warning systems, respond to emergencies more efficiently, save lives where it used to be impossible, assess damage in new ways and add to the knowledge base of the social behaviours and economic impacts after a crisis strikes. These innovations can also help us to define where to prioritize scarce resources.

Several CBi Member Networks have started to pilot innovative approaches and new technologies. For example, the Member Network in the Philippines, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), launched the world’s first private sector–operated Emergency Operations Centre using GIS technology among others. The Mexico network, led by the Centro Nacional de Apoyo para Contingencias Epidemiológicas y Desastres (CENACED), developed a mobile application for matching disaster recovery needs with monetary and in-kind support as well as volunteers. The Sri Lanka network, led by the Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management, Sri Lanka (A-PAD SL), worked with a local taxi hailing mobile application called PickMe to incorporate an SOS feature for rescuing stranded people.

A 2019 study on disruptive technologies and their use in disaster risk reduction and management by ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, found that “many uses of Big Data, robots and AI remain largely experimental. Largescale impacts will require more time and investments in skills and research. Traditional technologies, though not considered disruptive, continue to play a critical role in disaster management, and are also benefitting from digitization. Satellite imagery and seismometers remain important methods for detecting, monitoring and accessing disasters, and text messaging has a wide reach when communicating with the public.

In 2020, CBi, in partnership with the SDG AI Lab, is embarking on a research project on how AI and other technologies are being used, or could be used, in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. In addition, it will use natural language processing (NLP) to understand the private sector contributions in disaster management more broadly and look at the potential of GIS technology for private sector networks. The primary vision is to improve private sector networks’ understanding of the possibilities digital and AI-based solutions can provide as well as enhance their ability to apply them in practice in the disaster management space. The study will also take into account the risks and possible downsides of different technologies. This initial scoping phase would include consultations with CBi Member Networks and partners, determining the future direction of this work area.


To learn more about CBi’s innovation work and partnering opportunities, please reach out to tiina.turunen@undp.org.

Photo: UNDP Maldives and DJI

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