Using Chatbots for Alternative Communication During Disasters

Last Updated on October 20, 2020 by Sean B

With the exponential increase of AI-powered machines, it is about time to think about how AI and machine language can make a positive impact on our lives. Using chatbots for alternative communication during disasters can assist governments and organizations in getting emergency care and shelters where they are needed.

Disaster management situations are one of the ways that technology can make a positive impact on our lives. Major disasters, such as a pandemic or a high-scale hurricane are often accompanied by incredible destruction and the need for survivors to access assistance can be disrupted by the loss of existing infrastructure.

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is an artificial intelligence software, powered by machine learning that can simulate or start a conversion/chat with a user in a natural human language through various websites, messenger applications, mobile phones, and even through automated calls.

In recent years, chatbots have proved to be promising expressions of technology. It is the most advanced way to initiate interaction between machines and humans.

Formulating common questions and responses in NLP (natural processing language) is the most typical example of chatbots used in various applications.

THe devastation of a Hurricane leaves the infrastructure in shambles.

Can Using Chatbots for Disaster Management Help?

In such disastrous times, it is critical to act rightly and quickly by accessing accurate information to pass to humanitarian organizations.

An AI-powered chatbot is a smart management solution, capable of accumulating critical information and assisting seamlessly in natural disasters. Disaster management chatbots can transform the way international humanitarian organizations respond to large-scale disasters.

Forming an AI-chatbot to manage disasters is important given that we have only 12 years at most to avert a large-scale climate catastrophe, as stated by the United Nations.

Using Chatbots as an Alternative Communication During Disasters

The novel coronavirus changed how businesses operate and how we live. Companies spent a lot on research and development for smart solutions to fill in critical communication gaps during life-threatening disasters. Many have turned their faces towards automated workflow, artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics to continue to work seamlessly, regardless of the large-scale disasters.

But how can an AI-powered chatbot be used smartly to respond to crises and disasters? How can conversational bots make use of machine language and artificial intelligence to fight the impact of climate change and COVID-19? This is something that we wanted to comment on since we are living the post COVID life.

Whether it’s a pandemic, a major hurricane, a flash flood, or a thunderstorm that disrupts our daily lives, having a portal to respond quickly and to disperse key information to the humanitarian organization is key to avert chaos and large-scale destruction.

Chatbots can be used for alternative communications during a disaster to help put resources where they need to go and to help survivors find the emergency services they need. This is even more important during a crisis when the infrastructure may be damaged or simply overwhelmed.

A woman using an Apple Watch

AI Chatbots Improve Communications During an Emergency Leading to Faster Humanitarian Response Times

Accessing big data has become much easier thanks to technologies like machine language and artificial intelligence. These technologies are enabling us to create smart and intelligent processing systems that are capable of processing large volumes of data in real-time to provide quick and valuable insights, predict possibilities and even mitigate future damage.

Here are three ways in which we can use AI-powered chatbots for disaster management:

Real-Time Inventory Updates During a Disaster

One of the most valuable features of a disaster management chatbot is to enable the rescue team to access info about stock inventory. This can lead to optimized usage of available inventory.

For instance, if the rescue team worker asks the chatbot about food for the kids, the chatbot automatically displays all the relevant yet available products under the ‘kids food section’ such as the milk packets, cereal, and puddings along with quantities for each of the food item.

Similarly, when the same is asked about rice, the chatbots are able to communicate the available quantity or the number of packets available in stock. Chatbots giving real-time information to the rescue workers would help them to distribute the resource effectively.

However, this smart, AI solution should update the inventory automatically. The bot should also be able to sync the local database in the centralized database, hosted on the cloud to maintain redundancy. This feature enables the bot to exchange critical information across various geographical locations.

Using chatbots for customer service offers multiple language support.

Overcoming Language Barriers Using a Chatbot for Communication During Emergency Situations

Chatbots can use translation and speech services such as text to speech, speech to text, and tone analyzers that the people or rescuers input while communicating through their mobile devices.

It allows the rescue team workers to communicate in the regional language, thereby making rescue efforts effective and useful to those stuck in the aftermath of a large-scale disaster.

AI chatbots can be programmed to answer large volumes of calls from distressed people who need help or emergency rescue services. They can even analyze the tone pitch to identify the urgency of the problem. This way, they can prioritize rescue emergencies and help more people effectively.

For instance, the WFP (World Food Program) is a leading international humanitarian organization that helps countries to combat hunger. It uses an AI-powered chatbot to communicate to countries in 20 different languages.

Police officers using a chatbot for alternative communication during disaster management situations

Identifying Areas of High Impact During an Emergency

During disasters, network and power availability is an uncharted challenge that hinders the ability of all the humanitarian organizations to send help to the affected areas. However, all of them look for a smart yet technical solution to send targeted help and to distribute the resource effectively.

In such situations, AI chatbot can add significant value to the rescue operations by forming and displaying a geo-specific chaos indicator map (also known as a heat map) of all the affected areas.

For instance, if the network is disconnected and a power outage is observed, that area is considered under a high impact due to earthquake, thunderstorm, or any natural disaster.

Chatbots can form heat maps and identify highly-impacted areas using numbers. Leveraging AI-powered chatbots can help the rescue team to prioritize the highly-impacted areas. They can distribute the resource and send help to the areas badly impacted by an earthquake or a hurricane.

For example, if land sliding occurs in an area, the aerial rescue team will follow the heat map, generated by AI chatbots to reach to the impacted areas quickly.

AI-driven chatbots will continue to be used for relief work in the future. Whether ML and AI models can be used to predict the weather forecasts to mitigate the damage caused by a thunderstorm or a hurricane.

A Nurse drawing blood from a patient

How AI-Powered Chatbots are Helping During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the novel Coronavirus is spreading like fire, we are practicing social distancing and following laid out SOPs to flatten the curve. However, technologies like AI-powered chatbots are coming to the rescue during a pandemic.

During a pandemic, we need to stay closer to our families, friends, grocery stores, and even to the hospitals for emergencies. AI chatbots are helping local governments to create a communication circle amid pandemic to combat coronavirus.

Here is how chatbots are making a huge difference in a variety of fields during the pandemic.

Health Organizations and Local Governments

Chatbots helps users who visit government websites for acquiring location-based information about the novel coronavirus.

Since people cannot talk to a real person or visit the organization’s office, it is beneficial to receive crucial information right away. You can ask generic questions like:

  • What is the situation in my area?
  • What is the status of lockdown in my area?
  • What is the number of cases in my neighborhood?
  • Where can I have myself tested?
  • Do I need to call 911 in case of a medical emergency?

Financial and Mental Well-Being

We are in lockdown, unable to meet our friends and families. Many people have lost their jobs and are on the verge of financial instability. Thus, we require automated support systems around us. These systems provide a range of support services, ranging from mental health counseling to financial counseling.

Many companies have AI chatbots that give health tips at the end of the conversation. This might be a marketing strategy but people are looking for positive tips to stay fit and to strengthen their immune systems.

For instance, you can integrate an AI-powered chatbot with your application. You can offer the best workout plan, a healthy meal plan and answers to frequently asked health questions throughout the day.

Restaurants

Most of the restaurants are not in operation. However, take-out and delivery options are available. The operation hours are short and most of the restaurants have changed their menus. To inform the general public, many restaurants have chatbots on Facebook Messenger to assist the users and to take orders when the customer representatives are busy.

Restaurants are advised to work with fewer employees to stop the spread of the virus. Hence, taking order calls can be challenging, especially during a pandemic. This is where a chatbot comes handy.

Dominos has an AI-powered chatbot that communicates to you on Facebook Messenger. It displays you the menu and even takes your order. It also allows you to re-order the previous order by accessing order history.

If you want to talk to a real person for special instructions, it even connects you to a customer representative.

Volunteering

More and more people are volunteering to help amid the coronavirus crisis. However, they need the information to get started.

Many humanitarian organizations have integrated their applications with chatbots to convey accurate information if one wants to volunteer. The chatbot guides you about the whole procedure and even answers to some of the related questions you ask.

AI Chatbots Have the Power to Save Lives

In the year 2017, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes cost 306 billion dollars worldwide. To mitigate the destruction caused by natural disasters, billions are being invested in Artificial intelligence to create chatbots that can assist during a pandemic, an earthquake or a large-scale flood.

As we find most of the chatbots on messaging apps, we have created a list of AI-powered chatbots who save lives using social media platforms.

An Ambulance parked in front of an Emergency Room

Assisting with Rescues Through Messaging and Calls

The newly started business, Rescue created an AI-powered chatbot that sends a distress call to the friends and family of the victim through SMS, WhatsApp, or Facebook messenger.

In many emergency situations, such as a flood, it is not possible to make a call, especially if there’s a power outage in your area. A pinpointed silent call for help to the organizations using Rescue is the best example of the use of chatbots for disaster management.

Rescue is now looking forward to collaborating with universities, colleges and even 911 to locate and help people right away. The ability to reach humanitarian officials via chat makes more sense then explaining your emergency situation through a call.

At least two-thirds of the emergency calls on 911 go unprocessed as the system fails to provide the pinpoint location of the caller.

The Alert System by FEMA and the President

The wireless emergency system is created by FEMA under the authorization of the president. Basically, the president and the FEMA can send an automated message to WEA in case of a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or a national emergency.

Last year in September, the FCC committee voted to make WEA messages longer. They put in a request to add image and location links in the messages.

A young woman with Depression sitting alone.

Cogito App for People Battling Anxiety and Depression

Cogito raised a whopping 15 million dollars to add a mood-tracking feature in their app for the customer representatives. Through this feature, they can easily sense the next big answer during a conversation.

Cogito’s app is currently being used by hospitals and institutes to combat depression and anxiety in people.

Crisis Line Messaging

Crisis Text Line operates an application to offer counseling services to people via text message. Currently, it is integrated with Facebook Messenger and YouTube but in the future, it is said to integrate with the Kik platform as well.

Koko, an AI chatbot on the Kik platform on behalf of Crisis Text Line will help people in distress.

Closing thoughts

Fortunately, we live in an era where human knowledge and mobile technologies like artificial intelligence can be combined in real-time to avert catastrophes. AI-powered chatbots have the full potential to mitigate man-made as well as natural disasters. Many humanitarian organizations take the help of chatbots to access critical information or to share generic information with the public.

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2 thoughts on “Using Chatbots for Alternative Communication During Disasters”

  1. Thanks for the explanation, Sean. I still have the feeling I don’t understand completely what a chat bot is, but by reading articles on your website, I am getting there.

    What I can’t grasp yet, for instance, is: how is a chat bot comparable to a phone app? I use phone apps all the time, and have a strong opinion about them, because I have an idea what they do. I won’t download a corona-app because I don’t trust the efficacy and I wonder how the invasion on my privacy will work out.

    I guess I see chat bots every day on Facebook? It’s hilarious how I am asked at times to reply to a message to prove I am not a bot but a human. I am pretty sure it’s a bot who is asking that question, right?

    Anyway, I’ll keep on reading your articles. There will be a point where I can say: yes, now I get the meaning. 🙂
    (When that is? As soon as I can explain it to my husband, LOL)

    Reply
    • Hannie,

      A chatbot is similar to a phone app built to interact with users. Where you are likely taking all the actions on most phone apps, when you’re dealing with a well built chatbot, it will take some initiative and make suggestions. It will also tailor the instructions to you. For example, if an Earthquake hits here in Seattle, and we’re supposed to get a 9.0 sometime in the next 1,000 years or so, I could have a chatbot on my phone that could contact important people on my contact list to let them know I’m ok and send them other messages. The same chatbot might be able to provide warnings about damaged areas, guide me to a safe place for the night, and help me address any medical needs.

      An App would need to be massive to be able to do this and it would have to be programmed in advance to load that information through specific button clicks. But an AI chatbot would learn on the fly, so anything new that it is told can be sent out to those in contact with it. If I was heading to a shelter for the night and it filled up, I would know as soon as the AI knew and it could direct me to the next closest shelter based on where I am.

      As for privacy, this is always going to be a concern, it comes down to what companies you trust and what risks you’re willing to take. For example, I would trust a governmental agency more during an emergency, but I’ll trust Amazon more to recommend what book or detergent I should buy.

      As for the bots asking us to prove who we are… yep, I hear you completely.

      I hope that answers some of your questions,
      Sean

      Reply

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