Social Media and Alternative Data Help Hospitals During Natural Disasters
By Ed Monan, Director of Corporate Security Sales, Dataminr
Extreme weather and natural disasters are always a concern for healthcare facilities, and in today’s world, storms are occurring with greater severity and frequency than ever before. In September, Hurricane Florence brought historic flooding to the Carolinas. The storm caused thousands of patients in hospitals and nursing homes across the states to be evacuated. Florence was just the latest major storm to have serious consequences for healthcare facilities. As hospitals battle through another hurricane season, past hurricanes, like Florence, offer lessons that can improve hospital response during these inevitable crises.
As Hurricane Florence demonstrated, natural disasters wreck havoc on infrastructure. Early estimates of the damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure are coming in at $20 billion. During the storm, the Carolinas experienced fires, gas leaks, water disruptions and power outages, all of which could threaten a hospital as well as those receiving treatment inside. This is why hospital security directors and emergency management teams need real-time information about all local breaking events during extreme weather. CNN, police, and local news supply some of this information, but public social media posts and other alternative public data can be valuable sources of real-time knowledge. Simply put, social posts, often created by eyewitnesses, are the quickest way to learn of events as they happen.
Consider a fire in a building neighboring a hospital. Given the unpredictability that accompanies a natural disaster, emergency services may be overwhelmed. There can be gaps in communication and lags in response due to the volume of emergency situations. In these cases, hospitals may remain in the dark about this nearby security threat. However, security teams that use emerging technology to harness insights from public online data aren’t beholden to official channels. They can learn of relevant incidents independently and assess risks immediately. This helps security directors decide if they need to close a hospital wing, reroute incoming patients to other facilities, or evacuate.
Perhaps the most obvious threat to a hospital’s functionality is a disruption to ambulances. With real-time alerts derived from public social media data, the security director and emergency management team can better understand ground conditions that affect ambulance routes. Details about downed trees, fallen power lines, and roads underwater are regularly posted online. These frequent occurrences are sometimes absent from typical information channels, but are essential to know when battling the elements to get patients through hospital doors.
Similarly, this information is critical to hospital staff because it impacts their ability to get to work. With real-time awareness of these events, hospital communications teams can notify staff of issues as they arise, thereby giving them a chance to alter routes or, if safety dictates, stay in place.
Real time alerts from social posts can also aid in preparing for patients. For example, during Hurricane Harvey in 2018, 911 lines were inundated and people needing rescue posted pleas for help online when they could not get through to emergency operators. Hospitals receiving alerts about people needing rescue could anticipate patient arrivals and ready resources to treat them.
Given the hyper-chaotic nature of hurricane coverage, it is easy for details to be overlooked and go unreported by traditional media. That is why social media and alternative information streams are essential datasets. When coupled with AI and machine learning, hospital security directors can distill the relevant facts from the sea of extraneous information. For hospital security professionals responding to a natural disaster, they can quickly identify threats posed to patients, staff and infrastructure in a time of untold discord and confusion. By operating with real-time social media alerts, security, operations and emergency management teams can make the right calls quickly so that their hospitals remain up and running even in the most trying times.