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Revolutionary AI Tool Helps Rescue Teams Locate Hurricane Victims

The Florida Digital Service has so far been able to send help to 1,278 victims of Hurricane Ian thanks to an AI-driven system adapted from the pandemic response.

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA — Before Hurricane Ian made landfall, the Florida Division of Emergency Management conducted a Shelter In Place survey to help prepare for the storm. The department received 20,660 total unique household submissions and 44,801 total phone numbers provided, which were combined landline and cell phone numbers.

Within 24 hours of Hurricane Ian’s impact, the Florida Digital Service (FL[DS]) took this data and ran it through contact center automation tools. These AI-driven tools were developed in partnership with telecom company MCI during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to assist people with finding vaccination sites.

“Governor DeSantis directed our team to use every tool at our disposal to support those impacted by the storm and the first responders in the field. By using existing automation capabilities, our team at the Florida Digital Service has been able to help direct search and rescue efforts where they were and are most needed,” Florida Chief Information Officer James Grant told The Florida Standard.


A large percentage of those contacted responded to the automation – 18,287 unique households – which corresponds to an 88.51 percent response rate. Out of those respondents, 93 percent said that they were safe. But 1,278 of those who responded said that they needed help or rescue.

“I believe this to be the most rapid and robust digital response in history to a natural disaster,” James Grant said.

The information on people who needed help were then routed through the Florida Emergency Operations Center infrastructure to support search and rescue missions.

“We are in the process of ingesting search and rescue waypoints – by latitudes and longitudes – in an effort to map to addresses in our system to further refine locations that need to be checked and have not been checked,” James Grant explained.


But that’s not all. While ingesting the Shelter in Place data, FL[DS] created a ServiceNow instance to begin managing records from different systems.

“In doing so, we built and published – a site where missing persons can be reported and where those in need of help themselves can alert the authorities. We have received 4,414 unique records into that system, and all have been routed through the State Emergency Operations Center processes to support search and rescue missions,” Grant said.

Grant’s agency also built and published to help people report themselves and their family as safe.

“This is an automated way to match and clear records within to even further focus search and rescue activities. Our team is actively reviewing all information that comes in,” James Grant explained.