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Start up secures funding to pilot emergency management bot

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington social enterprise start up, Situate Me, has been awarded $60,000 from the Westpac NZ Government Innovation Fund to invest in testing a new emergency management information chatbot that could prove invaluable to New Zealand’s emergency management services.

The cloud-based system, which uses a Virtual Disaster Assistant, called Ema, to capture real-time welfare information from anyone caught in a natural disaster or emergency situation, is designed to collate this information and deliver it quickly to emergency services and emergency management decision makers.

Rob Gourdie, Situate Me’s co-founder, former Red Cross emergency worker and military officer, explains that when disaster strikes, emergency management decision makers come under intense pressure to make accurate and informed decisions as fast as they can.

"To do this, they need to know as quickly as possible what’s happening on the ground, who’s affected and what people need - be it food, water, shelter or sanitation. The Situate Me platform will gather this information compassionately and conversationally, via our multi-lingual chatbot, Ema. The data will then be directly fed to emergency management decision makers, such as Civil Defence.

Mr Gourdie adds that when the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura Earthquake struck in the dead of night in November 2016, emergency management knew that the township was badly affected but knew little about the extent of the damage further north or south.

"People were posting on social media - there were 15,840 reports of an earthquake within the first hour on New Zealand’s GeoNet website and 250 million hits on the website in 24 hours - but with no direct link through to emergency management teams, this information wasn’t collated. This is where Ema would have been a vital resource, capturing this information and presenting the wider picture. We see Ema’s ability to gather key information in a sensitive and timely manner as being a game-changer for the future of emergency management and response teams".

The next step is for Situate Me to use the Westpac NZ Government Innovation Fund grant to pilot Ema. Conducted together with a local emergency management group in a locale with a population of around 1.5 million, the pilot will seek to inform and educate the public and gather data around emergency preparedness, at scale.

Westpac NZ Innovation’s Service Director, Simon Rogerson, says the bank is delighted to support Situate Me.

"Westpac is proud to provide the money and expertise to support innovative ideas and opportunities that will make a difference for New Zealand. Situate Me fits perfectly into this category. New Zealand is vulnerable to natural disasters - including earthquakes, floods and tsunamis - and needs to be prepared for any eventuality. The Situate Me platform has the potential to greatly assist our emergency services and emergency management teams across the country with their disaster preparation and response work."

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