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September 7, 2017

What Hurricane Harvey Teaches us About IoT

Written by Jeremy Macdonald & Dave Raymond

Hurricane Harvey teaches us how valuable internet connected sensors (IoT) can be to business operations. Disclosure: Our company, TempAlert, has deployed internet-connected sensors at over 50,000 locations to automate food safety and pharmacy safety. Remote monitoring systems can provide both important insights into your day-to-day operations, as well as play a central role in your response to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. For example, during Hurricane Harvey, large restaurant chains and pharmacies used data from their TempAlert sensor networks to make time-sensitive decisions about power loss and potential temperature damage to food supplies and medical supplies. Here are some of the insights that we took away from helping large (and small) companies such as CVS, Walmart, and Yum!, manage their response to Hurricane Harvey.

Visibility in Adversity

During natural disasters, remote visibility into equipment, environmental conditions, and facilities enables teams to prioritize their response. In most pharmacies and restaurants paper-based temperature logging is still the standard, preventing timely visibility for risk management. Companies who have deployed internet-connected sensors are using real-time data on temperature, humidity, power loss, and other key metrics to triage their response to weather-related events. For example, understanding extreme temperature exposure inside a pharmacy or restaurant refrigerator can help make informed decisions that protect customers from potentially unsafe products. Knowing that an entire retail store location has lost power helps determine which food may be at risk and which is safe to consume. Having data like this at your fingertips allows you to make more informed, intelligent, and timely decisions.   

Fault-Tolerant Design

One of the challenges during natural disasters is gaining insight when power is lost and networks are down. Fault-tolerant system design is critical to maintaining data availability during disasters. For example, most of our customers operate systems utilizing cellular communication so that monitoring can continue during local network interruption, and utilize a wireless network that frequently has backup power generation. Additionally, they have selected a system utilizing battery-powered sensors and sensor gateways with back-up batteries to continue operation during periods of power loss. Another important aspect of fault-tolerant design is “store and forward” technology so that all sensor readings are stored at the edge during communication interruption and forwarded when communication is reestablished.

Proactive Monitoring

Minutes count when responding to natural disasters; make sure that your processes are well defined, and that your remote monitoring platform is supporting your emergency response workflows. Timely information from your remote monitoring platform can help you proactively prioritize both where you respond as well as how you respond. With remote insight into your operation, you can move from reactive management based on limited visibility to proactive management based on real-time risk stratification.

Incident Response

The value of internet-connected sensors really lies in your ability to drive workflows that are more informed and more timely. Some of the workflows relate to facilities management, while others relate to compliance and risk management. In all cases, we have found that a collaborative incident management system is critical to orchestrating what you do with your remote sensor data. A severity-based approach to incident management (differentiating incidents by multiple levels of severity), enables you to triage your response whether you are monitoring 10 locations or 10,000 locations. Another aspect of Incident Response is the ability to assign incidents to anyone in your organization so that they can take corrective action and document what they have done.

While there is a lot of talk about the day-to-day advantages of IoT, events like Hurricane Harvey show that the value of internet connected sensors play a central role in disaster response. As organizations, we need to be prepared for natural disasters, and improving our visibility into our facilities and equipment performance is one way to mitigate risk and recover smoothly from extreme events.

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