Emergency management today: Quantum computing is a 21st century solution for 21st century problems

Prevention, protection, mitigation, response, recovery. Most Americans may not immediately recognize the five mission areas of emergency management, but the frequency of natural disasters means the average American has an increased chance of being personally involved in the emergency management continuum. According to a report by Statistica, over the past 19 years, the global loss due to natural disasters alone was a staggering $232 billion.

Emergency management teams currently deploy technologies like drones, sensors, robotics and cloud- based tools to improve preparation and response efforts. But these technologies do not fully possess the two key attributes that underpin all phases of emergency management: speed and the ability to account for limitless variables. Cutting-edge technology like quantum computing is uniquely capable of addressing these variables.

Since quantum can perform calculations on countless combinations simultaneously, it can generate solutions that can help save lives, property and the environment much faster than classical computers. Peer-reviewed research published in Nature, one of the most highly-regarded science journals in the field, presents growing evidence of quantum’s superior performance over classical computers and application to large-scale optimization problems.

According to research by KPMG Canada, nearly 60% of Canadian organizations expect quantum computers to become mainstream by the end of the decade. Additionally, both quantum annealing and quantum-hybrid (quantum plus classical computing applications) are available now via the cloud and they work synergistically with other technologies like high-performance computing and AI/ML.

Broad third-party support for near-term quantum computing applications

 Organizations are calling on the U.S. government to identify problems that could be solved by quantum computing by building near-term applications. For example, the Information Technology and Innovation Forum (ITIF) authored a report titled “Why the United States Needs to Support Near-Term Quantum Computing Applications.” The Hudson Institute’s Quantum Algorithm Institute published “Advancing the Quantum Advantage: Hybrid Quantum Systems and the Future of American High-Tech Leadership.” Building these applications will allow the U.S. to demonstrate how quantum can address public-sector challenges such as those related to emergency response.

 Quantum-fueled emergency response planning

For planning, quantum technology can facilitate cutting-edge simulation and critical mission rehearsals. The combination of multiple simulations plus situational awareness intelligence helps emergency management professionals craft more comprehensive response plans. Applied quantum computing, which can be enriched by quantum-enhanced AI, could be utilized for mission-scale simulations that yield real-time or near real-time analysis for optimal preparedness. For example, a company in Japan developed a quantum-hybrid application to facilitate planning related to tsunami response. A quantum application enables optimized analysis of potential tsunami impact areas, generating real-time data to be used to manage road congestion and evacuation routes. Improving mobilization of resources and response times is critically important during times of emergency response. According to an article in IndustryWired, “researchers and scientists are already chalking out strategies that would help forecast the weather conditions and make an informed decision with the help of quantum computing.”

Additionally, the Australian Army explored how quantum-hybrid applications can be used to improve last-mile resupply in emergencies, including identifying optimal routes for re-supplying troops. The U.S. could apply this same technology to plan for and respond to hurricanes, flooding and wildfires by identifying evacuation routes, streamlining logistics operations for infrastructure repairs, and preparing for medical mass care response.

Streamlined approach to complex logistics management

As any first responder knows, unified and coordinated logistics management is an essential, herculean task. This operational web is complicated by the very nature of natural disasters: The same infrastructure that would be accessed or mobilized for response and recovery efforts is often destroyed or compromised by the disaster. Rapidly shifting situational needs further complicate prioritization and execution of response tactics. Quantum applications can analyze millions of possible variables during swiftly changing conditions to identify solutions to improve deployment of rescue operations, weather modeling, access to medical treatment, and clearing of essential transportation routes. Case in point: National defense experts are exploring quantum-hybrid as a homeland security tool, and the results are impressive. A quantum application developed for missile defense looked at 67 million different scenarios and provided an answer in approximately 13 seconds. Additionally, the House of Representatives recently included a near-term quantum application pilot program in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.

Globally, the private sector has begun developing quantum-hybrid applications to aid logistics management, effectively providing a playbook for adapting this technology for first responder routing.  For example, DENSO Corporation found that a quantum-hybrid application for taxi services reduced the number of taxis needed for 400 rides from 62 to 43, a 30% reduction in vehicle demand. DENSO also worked with Toyota Tsusho Corporation on fleet operations in Thailand and found that a quantum-optimized route reduced mileage and drive time by nearly 10%, which also lowered emissions and provided a solution that was 26% better than a traditional optimization tool. The same technology could be applied to ambulances, fire, police and hazmat vehicles, shaving critical minutes during emergency situations.

Optimized medical response approach

Quantum computing can also improve coordination of mass care response, specifically patient and staff scheduling in hospitals by accounting for health system locations, system-wide priorities, medical staff specialties and staff availability. For example, in Japan, an application helped address nurse scheduling by ensuring the appropriate staff were on call while considering variables such as shift parameters and personnel specialties. Similar scheduling applications could help U.S. physicians, EMT services, law enforcement and more.

The power of quantum today

The long-lasting aftereffects of natural disasters ripple through resources, critical infrastructure, and the local and regional environment. Quantum can model aspects of recovery such as assessing the air quality implications of wildfires and groundwater contamination following infrastructure damage. Applications could even be built to address remediation efforts such as optimal utility and phone grid repairs. The ability to identify, assess and prioritize risks quickly to inform protection activities, countermeasures and investments is within the capability of today’s quantum technology.

Policymakers are taking note of the ways quantum and quantum-hybrid technology can underpin critical aspects of emergency management. Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) has introduced the the Wildfire Tech Demonstration, Evaluation, Modernization, and Optimization (DEMO) Act, which creates a test bed for emergency technologies like quantum computing to be used to address wildfires.

The professionals on the front lines of prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery should have at their fingertips the most powerful tools to execute their mission. Quantum and quantum-hybrid technology enable the rapid, data-driven decisions that are essential when minutes and seconds matter the most.

Dr. Alan Baratz was named CEO of D-Wave in 2020.

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