MIT Lincoln Laboratory
Significant humanitarian crises are increasingly prevalent around the world—natural disasters, refugee crises, and drought and famine make headlines on a routine basis. With increased effects from global warming and ongoing conflict around the world, incidents like these will affect the lives of billions of people and continue to present engineering challenges both at home and abroad.
Humanitarian crises present numerous opportunities for the use of life-saving and community-restoring technologies, from digital, mapping, and networking technologies to technologies for the delivery of basic human services. But technology providers must overcome critical challenges to ensure that their solution is beneficial for the affected population. Technologies in these environments must deliver benefits with timely results, be easy to use, adapt to existing structures and communities, often be of low cost and compact form factor, and perhaps most importantly be responsive to the needs of the community. It is essential that engineers understand not only how technology may be used for good but also how it may contribute to conflict. These hurdles can be daunting, particularly for state-of-the-art concepts and startup companies. In addition, for crisis responders, choosing the correct technologies in a fast-paced and complex situation can be a significant challenge.
Speakers in this session addressed the role of the engineer in technology implementation in crisis and postconflict environments and described some technologies being explored for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Julia Moline (FEMA) opened the session by explaining the role of technology from the federal perspective, with a focus on recent hurricanes Harvey and Maria.1 Darshan
1 Paper not included in this volume.
Karwat (Arizona State University) examined the role of the engineer in society and particularly in the advancement of peace and social justice. Willow Brugh (Truss) walked through a strategic game design workshop to bridge communication and organizational differences between formal and informal crisis responders. In the final talk, Marissa Jablonski surveyed the USAID approach to development engineering and disaster relief. During the discussions ideas for novel solutions were welcomed for this challenging space, as well as questions about how the role of technology should evolve in today’s crises and conflicts.