Here’s How Mobile Technology Makes Disaster Zones Less Disastrous

When it comes to acquiring data about patients in a disaster zone, using Excel spreadsheets and paper forms takes too much time when lives are in the balance.  One epidemiologist felt there had to be a better way to acquire the necessary data about patients that was quicker and accurate.  Here is how mobile tech can make disaster zones less disastrous.

Writer Christina Nunez recently wrote about epidemiologist Jesse Berns quest to find a more efficient and quicker way to catalog and send details about a patient.  The epidemiologist grew frustrated during the Ebola crisis when she was working in 2015 in Liberia.  The issue at hand was the limited availability of technology in crisis zones around the globe, where tracking tools and Wi-Fi connections are scarce; Berns faced a similar situation back in 2013, where health surveys were being conducted for the World Health Organization on the Iraq/Syria border that the process became unacceptably slow.


Dharma is Born

Berns attacked the problem head-on by co-founding Dharma, which is a software platform that was created to make things easier with responders and other to analyze and collect data about locations and people who need assistance.  Dharma’s chief tech officer, Stefan Nagey, said that Uber can get real-time data on where all of its drivers are and where to deploy resources.  However, when an aid group arrives at the aftermath of a disaster, they don’t have that ability.

Dharma has been used by organizations to assess homes for structural damage after a natural disaster has occurred.  They have also track human rights abuses, conducted health surveys and other difficult tasks.  U2 front-man Bono has co-founded the social-impact investment fund named Rise, which donated roughly $14 million.


Using mobile tech to improve healthcare is becoming a trend by several startups.  One example of this is Omada Health, which offers a diabetes prevention program that has virtual health coaching accessible by phone; they are partly funded through health insurer Cigna.

Call9 is another company in which their aim is to lower visits to the hospital by transporting emergency treatment remotely.  Zipline assists health workers located in remote areas by sending drones to deliver blood supplies after sending a text message.


While it isn’t new to collect data electronically, Dharma’s exception is it is simpler to use than a normal database program, stores information securely and, if necessary, can work on a Bluetooth connection or offline.  Nagey said with regards to collecting and analyzing information, that somebody with no software development experience can sit down, design their forms and their data structure, and immediately have a mobile or web-based application.

Though the data often being gathered isn’t complicated, it does need to quickly be analyzed so the correct solutions get matched up with the proper individuals.  Nagey commented that so much waste happens as a result of improper, incomplete information.  Having the complete chain of data … that’s real power that can be used to make the world a better place.