How computing helps during a crisis

While many of us lost power, leaving us without access to tv or Internet, there are so many ways that computing helped us weather this disaster. First, there’s the mass amount of computing power that went into predicting the path of the storm. Because our computing power is better than it was, the path can be predicted more accurately and earlier. This allows states and municipalities to prepare sooner, to tell people to evacuate, to set up shelters. Individuals have time to get supplies and prepare. That saves lives.

Once the storm is underway, communication is key. Thanks to computing, there are multiple avenues for communication. Cell phones, email, twitter, all keep people in touch with each other. I was on twitter most of the night, following local tweeters from the media and fire departments, letting us know where roads were dangerous, where power was out, and what places were open for dinner.

Computing may help us find a way to keep these things from happening again. Learning what patterns, environmental or other kinds, contributed to the storm, may help us reverse the larger damage that we’ve done and help us rebuild in ways that allow the planet to function better. Or it can help us think about putting electrical wires underground or other things that may keep damage to a minimum.

Not that humans don’t have a hand in solving these problems, but using models and data produced by computing can help humans make good decisions.