Advanced Techniques

Crisis Management

Michael Mitrakos
June 12, 2024
6 min read

Navigate Disasters

One hundred twenty three years ago today, Galveston Texas was completely unaware that it would be the scene of the greatest natural disaster in United States History.  The very next day, September 8, 1900, the Great Storm of 1900 took 8,000 lives and destroyed 7,000 buildings.  The National Weather Service’s local Galveston Official in Charge, Isaac Cline, was so unaware of Galveston’s exposure to the storm that he did not evacuate himself or his wife.  He survived, she did not.

The National Weather Service has gotten much better at protecting people in the United States from climate related disasters in the 12 decades since that storm.  Even so, 474 persons died in 2022 from 18 climate disasters that also did $165 billion of property damage.

In 1900, the National Weather Service did not have good data about the track of the storm.  It had one report of the storm crossing Cuba several days prior.  But the path of the storm was not known, so could not be conveyed to the people at risk.  

In modern times, weather forecasters and government officials have the opposite problem.  There is so much information available that sending a clear warning has become a significant challenge.  Fortunately, with recent advances in video livestreaming technology, some forward thinking public safety officials are deploying livestreaming video in crisis management scenarios.

Live streaming video conveys timely, actionable, and credible information to help people at risk make good decisions and reduce loss of life.  

Here are three recent examples of effective use of livestreaming by news and government websites:

Bar harbor / Myrtle Beach Webcams:

This series of webcams show the roads and beaches around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  TC Palm, a division of USA Today, does a great job displaying the camera locations on a map and making it easy to pick the best one for you.  Anyone having to make a decision about leaving for higher ground, could use this live information about both the beach and the road conditions.

USGS Hilauea Volcano Webcam Page:

This series of webcams show multiple views of the volcano.  In addition to the livestream, there are pages with timelapses – which is a good way to manage through the failure of a camera.  Another strategy for dealing with camera failure is rotate between several camera feeds.

Burning Man 2023:

Given the large volume of what some would call sensational news coverage, the official burning man webcam gave a clear-eyed view of the scene at the muddy puddle that was 2023 Burning Man.  Unfortunately, the livestream was only live on YouTube from August 31 through September 5th.  So, if you follow this link, you will see that the livestream is a thing of the past and can no longer be viewed. In addition, the Burning Man Project states on their website that they “will not authorize video live streaming or any other real-time uplinking of visual media from the playa”.  This is a good reminder to make sure to have the rights to any content before livestreaming it.  

In addition to properly researching the rights issues associated with your video livestream, here are a few more keys to success:

Plan for Outages:  Weather breaks cameras and power outages also impact performance.  Implementing a process for managing outages is important for a good user experience.  One method for addressing outages is to have many camera locations so an alternative view can always be found.  Another is to have several cameras feeding a single stream, so if one drops out of the rotation, the viewer will not be facing a blank feed.  Make sure to reduce or eliminate common points of failure that can take out multiple cameras at the same time.

Map + Cameras:  Multiple cameras can cause user overload when trying to find the best location.  Showing the cameras on a map and enabling easy and fast switching from one camera to the next is a good way to manage multiple cameras.

Deploy Early:  Once they are needed in a crisis, it is too late to build and deploy the system.  Therefore, installing, testing, and managing the system well in advance of a weather event is essential to success.

Dual Purpose:  A secondary, non-essential, use for the video livestreaming system will help ensure that the system is up and running and reliable well before it is needed during a crisis.  For example, traffic cameras are nice to have any day of the week and can be promoted to the public for monitoring every day traffic.  This will ensure the video livestream will be ready when a crisis event occurs, turning the system into a mission critical evacuation aid.

Properly designed, implemented, and tested systems are certainly not guaranteed to work without fail during a crisis.  Hurricanes, floods, and fires are complex and hostile conditions certain to challenge even the best preparations.  Careful planning can improve the chances that a video livestreaming system will remain online and save lives during a crisis.

Frequently Asked Questions

How has the National Weather Service's approach to protecting people from climate-related disasters evolved over time?

Over the past century, the National Weather Service has significantly improved its ability to protect people from climate-related disasters. While disasters like the Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston, Texas claimed thousands of lives due to a lack of accurate information, modern advancements in weather forecasting allow for more timely and accurate warnings. However, the abundance of information in modern times presents new challenges in conveying clear warnings to the public.

How is live streaming video technology being utilized in crisis management scenarios to improve public safety?

Forward-thinking public safety officials are deploying live streaming video technology in crisis management scenarios to convey timely, actionable, and credible information to people at risk. Live streaming provides real-time updates on conditions such as road and beach conditions during hurricanes, volcanic activity, and other natural disasters, enabling individuals to make informed decisions and reduce the loss of life.

Can you provide examples of effective use of live streaming by news and government websites in crisis situations?

Examples include webcams showing roads and beaches around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, during hurricanes, multiple views of the Hilauea Volcano in Hawaii, and the official Burning Man webcam, which provided live coverage of the event. These live streams offer valuable insights into conditions on the ground during crises, helping individuals make informed decisions.

What are some key considerations for implementing a live streaming video system for crisis management?

Implementing a robust live streaming video system for crisis management requires careful planning and preparation. Key considerations include planning for outages, managing multiple camera locations, deploying the system well in advance of a crisis, and ensuring dual-purpose functionality to maintain reliability.

How can properly designed and tested live streaming systems improve the chances of success during a crisis event?

While hurricanes, floods, and fires present complex and hostile conditions, careful planning and testing of live streaming systems can improve their reliability during a crisis. Strategies such as reducing common points of failure, providing clear mapping of camera locations, and deploying the system early for dual-purpose use can enhance its effectiveness in saving lives.

Michael Mitrakos
Senior Software Engineer
Software engineer with a knack for coding in far-flung places. World traveler, taco enthusiast, and ice hockey lover. Currently navigating life one byte at a time, and always in search of the best bookstores.