Committed to connecting the world

GSR 2023

Disruptive technologies and their use in disaster risk reduction and management


The Disruptive technol​o​gies and their use in disaster risk reduction and management was published to coincide with the third ITU Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-19)​, which took place from 6 to 8 March 2019, in Balaclava, Mauritius. The theme of GET-19 – Innovating together to save lives: using technologies in disaster management – remains highly relevant given the devastating impact​ that natural hazards have on people and economies across the globe. Each year over the past decade there were, on average, 354 disasters, 68 000 deaths, 210 million people affected and USD 153 billion in damages. However, there ​a​re signs that loss of life from major natural hazards are on the decline due to better disaster risk management. ​​

This document​ ​discusses the use and opportunities of ICTs and disruptive technologies for disaster risk reduction and management. It responds to requests from ITU Member States to identify relevant technologies and facilitate the sharing of best practices.​​​​The document finds that technological advance­ment and innovation are creating new opportunities for enhancing disaster resiliency and risk reduction. Developments in disruptive technologies – such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data – and innovations in such areas as robotics and drone technology are transforming many fields, including disaster risk reduction and management. The rapid spread of supporting digital infrastructure and devices, especially wireless broadband networks, smartphones and cloud computing, has created the foundation for the application of disruptive technologies for disaster management. Disruptive technologies can spread critical information more quickly, improve understanding of the causes of disasters, enhance early warning systems, assess damage in new ways and add to the knowledge base of the social behaviors and economic impacts after a crisis strikes. Situational awareness is improving with new tools providing the crisis community with a clearer understanding of the extent of damage and where to prioritize resources.​

At the same time, the pace, scope and impact vary among the technologies. Use of drones and IoT is increasing, as experience is gained and costs fall. While social media are playing a greater role during disasters and the public is using digital technologies such as crowdsourcing map details to support disaster management, many uses of Big Data, robots and AI remain largely experimental. Large-scale 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. 
The document identifies important steps that governments, relief agencies, the private sector, the research community and assistance agencies can take to maximize benefits from the opportunities identified in this document, and we highlight the importance of regulation, training, scaling and building partnerships. These steps will help disruptive technologies achieve wider impact before, during, and after disasters with the potential to significantly reduce loss of life and hasten recovery efforts.​​