Is Blockchain The Obvious Answer To Disaster Response?

In the first few months of 2020, the world reeled as a global pandemic swept across nations, taking with it more than 2.5 million lives, billions of dollars and any sense of normalcy. To mark the one year anniversary of COVID-19, winter storms raged across the U.S. In Texas, statewide power brokers proved their inability to restore electricity for millions of people during record-setting, single-digit temperatures. Preceding these events were wildfires, hurricanes and mudslides just to name a few. 

The intensity of these disasters bring many things into question including the resilience of our infrastructure, the ability of public-sector organizations to react swiftly and appropriately as well as the efficiency of our disaster response systems. 

The top challenges include: 

  • Fragmented approaches
  • Miscommunication
  • Lack of accountability
  • Inability to trace information 

Perhaps it is time to be more aggressive in admitting that our systems cannot meet expectations. In the quest for relief perhaps it is time to seek new solutions. Some suggest that the recent struggles (with more to be expected) are making the case for blockchain technology. 

In a recent blogpost on “Why Governments Need Blockchain”, Consensys asserts that “A blockchain-based digital government can protect data, streamline processes, and reduce fraud, waste, and abuse while simultaneously increasing trust and accountability. On a blockchain-based government model, individuals, businesses, and governments share resources over a distributed ledger secured using cryptography. This structure eliminates a single point of failure and inherently protects sensitive citizen and government data.”

They go on to cite the advantages of adopting blockchain protocol:

  • Secure storage of government, citizen, and business data
  • Reduction of labor-intensive processes 
  • Reduction of excessive costs associated with managing accountability
  • Reduced potential for corruption and abuse
  • Increased trust in government and online civil systems

Beyond the actual act of governing, blockchain technology may also be a key determinant of success in community-based disaster-relief efforts. As we’ve seen in so many recent incidents, the volunteer effort mobilizes quickly as neighbors and strangers rush in to support. But it can be difficult to match good intention with those in greatest need. A flurry of activity to identify at-risk persons is often too late, too uncoordinated and those best efforts are not always successful. 

In a recent Hyperledger blog, authors Gigo Joseph and Isaac Kunkel with Chainyard detail how blockchain can address many of the issues associated with disasters and disaster response. 

  • A common platform: Blockchain brings collaboration and coordination among all stakeholders involved in relief effort by having a single, trusted ledger.
  • Immutable data: Once data is recorded, it cannot be easily changed, creating an audit trail and trusted system for collection and distribution of goods and services.
  • Secure sharing & management: Documents and personally identifiable information (PII) can be securely managed and shared with need-to-know parties. This enables compliance with privacy regulations across different geographic regions.
  • Demand reporting: Demand (needs) from different areas can be recorded on a single network by trusted participants and met by different agencies. This can avoid duplication and wastage.
  • Improve trust with 3rd party verification: Needs can be verified by 3rd parties to increase the trust.
  • Tracking and visibility: Inventory of supplies can be tracked from receipt into the warehouses until delivery to the end receiver. This improves transparency and facilitates logistics, leading to faster responses and avoidance of duplication of efforts across relief organizations.
  • Honoring volunteer effort: Volunteers hours can be captured, tracked, rewarded and audited. Incentives, even if just recognition, can lead to more community engagement.
  • Future Tokenization: Potential future tokenization and linkage to stable coin can be used to incentivize volunteers to help

We are careening, rather ungracefully, into an era of change, transparency and accountability. Recent natural and pandemic disasters are demonstrating the weakness in our static, opaque and analog systems. Instead of resisting inevitable evolution, our energy is better spent searching for solutions that deliver enhanced security, more reliable results and greater accountability. This can perhaps help to restore trust between residents and public sector systems. 

Perhaps blockchain has found its most meaningful use in government applications. With interoperability being a key factor for success in smart cities, public sector leaders would be wise to not pass blockchain off as a fringe or passing fad.