Exploring the Role of Big Data in Emergency Management

Big Data in Emergency Management

There isn’t an industry on earth that isn’t impacted in some way by big data and so it is with emergency management. However, the data collected and analyzed by an emergency management team can be the difference between life and death for thousands of people, if not more. Consider for a moment how big data played a huge role and continues to be of major import, in the global pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, Covid. 

Whether you are currently employed in the field or are seeking a degree or emergency management diploma, the role of big data is central to almost every aspect of the work you do. In fact, big data affects literally every aspect of emergency management and without this technology, every response would be like playing a guessing game in the dark. The following information is by no means a complete picture, but it will give you an idea of just how critical big data and data analysis is within the field.

Mapping and Following Movement

Once again referring to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the key roles big data plays is in mapping the movement of the virus. Not only did the collection of global statistics help emergency management teams make preparations to mitigate risk within their communities, but case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths were easier to track and record. One of the main functions of emergency management is to mitigate risk within communities they serve, and what better way to reduce the spread of disease than by mapping and tracking its movement?

Strategic Planning

Big data also enables emergency managers in strategic planning for such things as crisis intervention and emergency response procedures. Typically, this position is held by a professional with a graduate emergency management diploma earned at a school like Wilfrid Laurier University. As data is collected, the team led by its director begins strategizing possible responses. 

Again, referring to the pandemic, big data made it possible to suggest border closures, business shutdowns, and other strategies for mitigating the risk of out-of-control transmission of this highly contagious and deadly disease. Two of the functions within public safety, border control, and national security, are paramount. Emergency management is an integrated field with public safety and their response to conditions requiring strategic border control is the result of big data.

Emergency Response Simulations

Every emergency management team undergoes one or more situational simulations within the course of a year. First responders get hands-on training and practice in crisis intervention. Unfortunately, in the past, a lack of statistical evidence made it difficult to simulate an adequate response. Certain procedures are greatly modified based on a number of people affected by the crisis event. 

Big data provides realistic numbers based on a statistical analysis of previous crises in kind. For example, emergency management teams in South Florida often had difficulty manning shelters during hurricanes because there was no data available in terms of need. As computer technology advanced and big data became a field of study, accurate movement of people in danger zones could be better simulated and planned for.


Often there are problems moving people and things during a crisis. An analysis of previous data collected during emergencies of the type now being responded to can help with logistics. Perhaps certain areas are vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain which would place bigger onus on the planning teams to map out alternate routes to move supplies or evacuate people.

In mountainous regions of some provinces in Canada, rockslides can prevent traffic from passing which not only makes travel during an emergency dangerous, but it can totally stop movement. Much needed supplies cannot be brought in, and people cannot be evacuated. Statistical probabilities can result in alternatives for rapid response and movement of people and things.


Just as in the world of business, big data can help emergency management staff responders during a crisis event. Based on the likelihood of the severity of an event and past statistical analysis of the number of people affected, the emergency manager can assemble lists of responders on a call. For example, department stores planning for each holiday season schedule staff based on factors that can affect the number of shoppers and the types of shopping they do. The human resources department uses data from previous years to staff the floor while data is collected for purposes of ordering sufficient stock.

Think about fires that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Pacific Northwest within recent years. Data is collected in terms of responders needed within geographical areas during a past event. Then, as fire season returns to those areas, the emergency manager can have paid and volunteer responders ready to be called up. These are examples of how big data can be used in a parallel way within emergency management.

An Ounce of Prevention

In the end, big data is like that ounce of prevention that is worth so much more than a pound of cure. It is a huge part of emergency management in that it takes historic statistical data to plan for future events. Without big data, it would be next to impossible to plan simulations for training purposes and it would also make it difficult to map out evacuation routes and alternate resources should a break in the supply chain occur.

Emergency management goes beyond responding to a crisis once it exists. The field requires careful planning prior to execution and, again, that’s where big data comes into play. If you are considering getting that graduate diploma in emergency management, be prepared to crunch some numbers. However, unlike days gone by, those numbers are collected by computer technology and AI can suggest possibilities for planning and response. 

It will be your job to determine strategies based on data analysis, but you aren’t alone. Technology is there with you every step of the way. Together with big data and AI, the emergency management team can be prepared for crisis events of any kind and any size.