AWS Public Sector Blog

Building resilience: Using technology to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the unexpected

Every day, people around the world are impacted by the unexpected – from pandemics, to natural and human-wrought disasters, to economic crises. According to the United Nations (UN) 2022 Global Assessment Report on Climate Reduction, worldwide disasters will get worse if current trends continue.

Technologies like the cloud can empower communities to prepare for and respond to the unexpected so that when a crisis hits, they can continue to advance. Amazon Web Services (AWS) works with customers and partners to build software solutions that improve government and nonprofits’ prediction, preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities—solutions that are being leveraged across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Predicting the unexpected

Earth observation (EO) data and cloud services can strengthen resilience and increase decision makers’ abilities to predict and prepare for disasters by providing data-driven insights on the often extensive and complex nature of disasters. AWS supports technical training for investigators and students to increase awareness of how the cloud can accelerate their research related to prediction, preparedness, and response, in addition to supporting first responders with workshops on geo-mapping. AWS also backs researchers through the Network of Earth Observation Laboratories for Disaster Risk Reduction (RedLABOT). RedLABOT was developed in collaboration with NASA Disaster Response Latin America, Esri, and AmeriGeo to address the gaps and challenges in disaster risk reduction in Latin America and the Caribbean. “RedLABOT builds a community between academia and government agencies that manage risk with local, regional, and global organizations that provide Earth observation data, models, and expertise with the objective of reducing disaster risk and strengthening local capabilities,” shared Ricardo Quiroga, NASA disaster coordinator for the Americas and AmeriGEO Disaster Working Group co-chair.

Preparing for the unexpected

The National Earthquake Information Center identifies about 20,000 earthquakes around the globe each year, or approximately 55 per day. Developing countries tend to bear the biggest burden of destruction, but unfortunately, earthquake early warning (EEW) systems can cost millions of dollars. Mexico-based seismic network company and AWS Partner, Grillo, is on a mission to make EEW systems more accessible.

“I saw first-hand how communities are impacted by these types of events while living in Haiti in 2010,” shared Andrés Meira, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Grillo. At the time, some 300,000 people were injured, and 1.5 million became homeless during the 35-second-long tremor. “After a similar experience in Mexico in 2016, I wanted to find a way to help developing countries implement affordable solutions to help predict and prepare for earthquakes, which is why I founded Grillo.”

Grillo has developed an internet of things (IoT)-based EEW system, with sensors currently deployed in Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica. This system uses off-the-shelf sensors that are placed in buildings near seismically active zones. Grillo sensors cost approximately $300 USD, compared to the traditional seismometers that cost around $10,000 USD. Because of these inexpensive sensors, Grillo can offer a higher density of sensors, which reduces the time needed to issue an alert and gives people more time for action.

“AWS supports us by hosting our archive of unprocessed accelerometer data to make it available globally, to encourage the development of new algorithms capable of rapidly detecting and characterizing earthquakes in real time,” said Andrés. “AWS has also provided credits, technical support, and funding to deploy sensors to help us build the first ever Caribbean regional early warning system, starting with nationwide networks in Haiti, Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic.”

Responding to the unexpected

Whether natural or human-made, disasters can leave telecommunications infrastructure damaged or destroyed, and communications networks are critical for operational planning, managing resources, and responding. AWS enables disaster response organizations to access cloud services at the edge, even in the harshest conditions.

In February 2022, deadly floods and landslides ravaged Petrópolis, a city in southeastern Brazil in the State of Rio de Janeiro. The governor called AWS, and AWS activated its volunteers and worked together with Help.NGO, an organization that uses technology for emergency response, preparedness, risk mitigation, and prevention. In just two weeks, the team captured drone images of 27 square kilometers of impacted land. Using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and AWS Snowball, the team processed this imagery to model the terrain and make a 3D rendering of the impacted area. This highly detailed 3D rendering of the impacted area showed the Brazilian government exactly where they needed to focus their resources to provide timely support to those most in need.

“The storage and computing capability powered by the AWS Cloud and in the edge allowed us to combine the drone data with decades of meteorological data to make better decisions,” shared João Rocha, senior partner solutions manager at AWS. “The Instituto Estadual do Ambiente (INEA) can now draw insights to predict the formation of new landslides, as well as use the information to plan the recovery.”

Now, the Brazilian government can make data-driven decisions to distribute Aluguel Social, a temporary, monthly assistance intended to provide urgent help to families experiencing homelessness as a result of extreme weather events. This work will also help the government anticipate future risks.

In 2021, when fire erupted in the data center in the Province of Chubut in Argentina, authorities identified a critical need to migrate local government data. With AWS support, the local government migrated their data to the cloud to support ongoing operations.

“AWS Cloud infrastructure, along with the assistance of [AWS’s] Professional Services, have allowed us to successfully carry out the migration of all our servers to AWS, safeguarding the corresponding data and, mainly, to temporarily maintain the computer operations of the Provincial Public Administration in operation in an emergency of this magnitude…” shared Sergio Ariel De Cicco, the Secretary of Public Administration and Modernization of the State of Chubut. “If we had gone out and bought hardware we would still be in the buying process now, six months later.”

Based on his experience, Sergio is now championing innovation in other provincial agencies to accelerate digital transformation.

Recovering from the unexpected

Organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross play a vital role in helping respond to and recover from the unexpected. In the aftermath of the earthquake that occurred in Puebla, Mexico in September 2017, AWS worked with the Mexican Red Cross to assist relief efforts by streamlining the distribution of supplies, resources, and donations. More recently, the collaboration has led to the creation of a web portal hosted in the AWS Cloud that allows resource distribution planning for the Mexican Red Cross. The country-wide website with 32 regional websites—one per Mexican state—uses Amazon EC2, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), and Amazon CloudFront to provide a personalized experience for each state delegation, including volunteer needs, training, and regional projects. Now donors can choose a state delegation to make their donations, and the Red Cross can prioritize projects with the greatest impact.

“Through these websites, the Mexican Red Cross has increased donations while capturing and retaining new donors and growing our volunteer base,” shared Alejandro Muguerza, national director of fundraising at the Mexican Red Cross. “The cloud allows us to acquire and retire resources on an ongoing basis, without relying on teams to approve, acquire, and install the infrastructure.

 Looking ahead: Holistic disaster response for the public sector

From facilitating big data sharing and analytics, to IoT technologies that democratize access to tools that help prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, the cloud supports technologies that build resilience and allow for long-term planning.

Learn more about the AWS Disaster Response Team and Open Data on AWS. Discover how to get involved with AWS Project Resilience, part of the AWS Disaster Response Program, which supports organizations affected by natural disasters and whose business continuity is critical to community resilience. Project Resilience offers up to $5,000 USD in AWS Promotional Credit to support projects related to business continuity in the cloud.

Read more about AWS for disaster response:

Subscribe to the AWS Public Sector Blog newsletter to get the latest in AWS tools, solutions, and innovations from the public sector delivered to your inbox, or contact us.

Please take a few minutes to share insights regarding your experience with the AWS Public Sector Blog in this survey, and we’ll use feedback from the survey to create more content aligned with the preferences of our readers.