January 7, 2020

Blockchain Enabled Disaster Management

This article was originally published on Linkedin

Every year, the United States experiences disasters with varying impacts to the community and the economy. These disasters include hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, snow storms and mud slides. While some disasters are predictable as to when they could occur, the location of the impact, the cost of recovery and the time to recover are often difficult to estimate. For example, Hurricane Mathew, one of the most powerful hurricanes to inflict severe damage to Haiti, made its final landfall in the state of North Carolina. The hurricane damaged or destroyed as many as 98,000 homes in Eastern North Carolina and nearly 20,000 businesses. It also damaged roads and water supply and waste treatment systems. Since the storm, nearly 4,000 homeowners applied for hazard mitigation grants. As per the CDC, contributing to the devastation wrought by Matthew was the fact that the hardest hit areas were also the poorest counties in the state, with consistently the worst health problems and poorest health infrastructure.

The impact to affected communities is tremendous and takes years to rebuild requiring plenty of resources. Today, such disasters are managed through an informal collaboration between volunteer organizations, relief organizations, public and corporate support, and government agencies. While all efforts are noble, there are various operational challenges that can be improved including registering volunteers, internal co-ordination within large agencies, external co-ordination across organizations, collection and distribution efforts, and recording of transactions across all of the efforts. Donors who wish to donate their time and resources, including money, do not have a single channel or process to do so. Additionally, others are hesitant to participate due to a lack of transparency, trust and efficiency in the process. In the aftermath of hurricane Mathew, the CDC coordinated all of the emergency activities from the stateÔÇÖs emergency operations center, or EOC, where 16 PHEP-funded staff logged 921 hours. Additionally, due to preexisting relationships with surrounding states, the state was able to request and receive 20 public health nurses from Tennessee within three hours.

Key Issues

Several volunteer organizations engage in Social Work across the globe and often go by ÔÇ£NGO or Non-Governmental OrganizationÔÇØ.┬áNGOs have a mission and vision to create social impact among deprived and needy communities. Some of the NGO Projects are long term such as providing sanitation and clean drinking water. Others are based on events such as disasters caused by hurricanes, forest fires, etc. NGOs are supported by various donors, organizations and volunteers who contribute time and resources. These resources can be in the form of money and non-monetary material contributions. Volunteers register with NGOs to deliver services to the communities they serve. Some volunteers provide access to their vehicles while others help in performing work and/or delivering the supplies to the impacted community and areas.

Key issues facing donors and NGOs include

  • Bringing trust, transparency and audit-ability to the process
  • Clear financial management and directing money for the intended purpose(s)
  • Ensuring donated items are distributed to those who need them and prevent wastage
  • Anonymizing transactions, yet making them available for audit and compliance reviews
  • Complying with privacy laws such as GDPR
  • Avoiding duplication of assistance to the impacted party
  • Collaborating between multiple NGOs to drive efficiency and effectiveness

Who are all involved?

Any relief effort involves collaboration between various parties. The following graphic shows the various parties engaged in a disaster relief and management process.

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It is obvious that they all have to collaborate ultimately to provide relief to the needy and affected communities.

How Blockchain Can help?

The Miracle Relief Collaboration League (MRCL, is a non-governmental volunteer organization that engages in natural disaster relief efforts such as hurricanes and floods. Chainyard had the experience of working with Miracle to enable a blockchain based solution.

There are many reasons, why a blockchain enabled solution makes sense as listed below.

  • The blockchain brings collaboration and coordination between multiple NGOs on a common platform
  • Once data is recorded, it is immutable and cannot be easily changed leading to trust and transparency in the gathering of resources and distribution of services and goods
  • Documents and personally identifiable information (PII) can be securely managed and shared with need-to-know parties. This enables compliance with privacy regulations
  • Tokenization and linkage to stable coin can be used to incentivize volunteers to help
  • Volunteers hours can be captured, tracked, rewarded and audited
  • Once a request for assistance is verified, information can be shared and coordinated with the volunteers
  • Inventory of supplies can be tracked from receipt into the warehouses until delivery to the end receiver
  • Transparency enables visibility into relief provided to the needy and helps avoid duplication of assistance to the same party by the same or multiple organizations

The Chainyard team worked with Miracle Leadership and Volunteers (some of them were IBM employees) to build a blockchain based solution that replaced the old MS Access application. The architecture was based on the Hyperledger Fabric and the solution was deployed for piloting on the Google Cloud.

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While designing the solution, one of the goals was to address key existing pain points and gaps. Coordination and communication between relief coordinators, and with those needing assistance was very important. Second, visibility into the inventory of supplies and their proximity to affected areas was major. Third, the ability to match needs of the affected party to available supplies was essential. Finally, since PII information such as name, phone, address etc. are collected, the solution had to provide for privacy and anonymity of transactions.

One critical aspect that the solution had to enable was the ability to record a request for help or any communication from anywhere using a smart phone as long as connectivity was available. The graphic below shows a sample screen from the application.

Sample Screen with Dummy Data

The highlights of the solution are as follows:

  • Register NGO (organizations) and Volunteers (users)
  • Record donations such as food, water, blankets etc.
  • Register support infrastructure such as transportation vehicles, shelters and warehouses
  • Register and Verify request for assistance from impacted communities and individuals
  • Manage coordination between volunteers and the needy
  • Deliver and record relief services
  • Provide transparency, privacy and track & trace capabilities

The solution was well received from a corporate social responsibility and community outreach perspective, and was awarded the 2019 Stevie Award.

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Chainyard┬áspecializes in advising and supporting small, medium and enterprise companies in Blockchain. Because we work closely with members of the Hyperledger foundation and are actively involved in the Blockchain community, weÔÇÖre able to provide our clients with expert insight into the Blockchain landscape to determine the most valuable Blockchain solution implementation for your business.

Chainyard had a team of five who closely worked with Kathryn Ingerly, Derek Harrison and Lee Duncan. This technical development of this project was sponsored by Sai Nidamarty as part of Chainyard’s┬áCorporate Social Responsibility┬áinitiative.