Witnessing the aftermath of a devastating event

Silence. Utter and complete silence . . . punctured only by soft sobs or frantic, searching screams.

The first time I stood in a field of debris that had been a neighborhood only moments before, it was the silence that struck me. At 4:50am, this community of homes was a soft hum of electricity—air conditioning units, refrigerators, and early alarms going off to start the day—by 4:52am, it was reduced to nothing by an EF-3 tornado.

Here’s a moment I captured that day:

Miraculously, no one died when that tornado hit, but as soon as the shock ended, there was a flurry of action. Friends, neighbors, and relatives searching for one another, praying to find their children or pets safe amongst the rubble. No emergency services were there yet and there was no cell phone service available to call for help. Just a few of the many byproducts of a disaster you don’t think about until it’s too late.

The raw, emotional moments of devastation following a natural disaster were imprinted on me that day. A person’s need is never greater than when their world has been turned upside down.

How can we help when disaster strikes?

Every day I report on another disaster from around the world on The Weather Channel app. We stare at our phones, captivated by the images, perhaps even sending silent prayers to those affected, but rarely imagining what would happen if it was us in those painful stories.

Our meteorological skill has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 20 years—tornado lead times can exceed 20 minutes; five days out, we have an idea of where a hurricane will make landfall; months in advance, we can tell if drought conditions will persist.

The seemingly endless disastrous weather that plagues our newsfeeds is a harbinger of things to come. We know through research that wildfires are not only happening more frequently around the globe, but with increased ferocity. The atmosphere is holding more water, making monsoons exponentially worse, and hurricanes and typhoons are creating deadly storm surges worsened by the rise in our seas. Not only that, but the number of people living in disaster-prone areas has skyrocketed, increasing by the millions.

The one constant in all these catastrophes is the need for help. Immediately after or during the devastating event, how can you reach for help if cell phone towers have been destroyed? How do you let your friends and family know you are safe? And once the shock wears off, how do you pick up the pieces? How do we find the people who are in desperate need of help and get them back on their feet? How do we sustain through long-term disasters such as drought?

There is an answer; in all the heartbreak, there is hope. The very best of humanity rises to the occasion when disaster strikes and now there is the chance to lessen the blow, for the best of mankind to help before the next natural disaster.

Call for Code is looking for the solution

Call for Code is a rallying cry for developers from all over the world to help create the next big solution to disaster crises. The creator, The David Clark Cause, with founding partner IBM, looks to find the next big thing when it comes to saving lives. Essentially a hackathon for global good, Call for Code is a rallying cry for code to address our most pressing societal challenges—whether it is helping to locate those who need help, minimizing health risks, or reducing the vulnerability to disaster.

As a meteorologist, I do the best I can to inform and prepare people before a storm. However, there is nothing I can do to stop Mother Nature. Perhaps the next great advancement of our age, a better way to protect people from destruction, is an idea you have . . . a code that can save lives. Take your first steps to answer the Call for Code by signing up here.


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