In 2017, natural disasters caused a record $306 billion in losses in the U.S. alone. Current emergency management systems, however, lack the capacity to describe the effects of disasters on a granular level or make predictions in real time.
One Concern tackles this global problem, harnessing AI to save lives and livelihoods from natural disasters. The startup’s proprietary models use data about a city’s physical infrastructure, natural environment, real-time traffic, and weather patterns to predict a disaster’s impacts on a hyperlocal level. One Concern raised $20M in December 2017 in their Series A round led by New Enterprise Associates. The startup has partnered with several U.S. cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are expanding their efforts internationally.
The science of disasters
One Concern CEO Ahmad Wani’s personal experiences with natural disasters motivated his decision to start One Concern. During a 2014 trip to his parents’ home in Kashmir, India in 2014, a large flood trapped him and his family on their roof for a week. Upon his return to Stanford, where he was a graduate student, Wani learned that an earthquake in Napa Valley had injured hundreds. Natural disasters were on the rise, but cities had not advanced their technology to face these devastations.
One Concern CEO Ahmad Wani
Wani shared his insights with Stanford graduate students Nicole Hu, an AI expert, and Tim Frank, an earthquake engineer. These three would become One Concern’s founding team. Together, they realized that advances in machine learning and data science could unlock “planetary scale resilience, where everyone lives in a safe, equitable, and sustainable world.”
The One Concern team had spotted a tremendous opportunity for innovation. Its models, a game-changer in the global eco-political environment, enable governments and other stakeholders to allocate resources more efficiently and equitably by identifying weakest links: buildings that will collapse first in a disaster, demographics of the most vulnerable communities, and so on. This wealth of information helps cities solve not just the immediate, one-time shocks of natural disasters, but also the lasting repercussions they cause, such as shocks to food supply and healthcare systems.
An ecosystem of resilience
One Concern is more than just a govtech company. It aims to build an entire ecosystem of resilience around cities. Craig Fugate, Barack Obama’s former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and One Concern’s Chief Emergency Management Officer, calls One Concern’s goal a “whole-community response” to disasters. Although One Concern started by contracting with city governments, its platform is now working to incorporate financial service providers, large corporate employers, and citizen leaders.
Wani’s eye is on global expansion and resilience building through One Concern. In particular, densely populated and disaster-vulnerable countries, such as India, offer the greatest opportunity to save as many lives as possible. The challenge lies in developing countries, which often lack the specific data that make One Concern’s prediction models possible. One Concern is considering strategies to create this data in emerging markets. The process of negotiating contracts also differs in developing countries, as budgets vary dramatically from city to city.
Example predictive earthquake map on the One Concern platform
One Concern may have ambitious goals, but Wani remains confident in its mission and team.
“Where we suffered setbacks…we always fell back on our belief in the mission and in each other. The personal resilience our collective support fostered helped us keep challenges in perspective and allowed us to continue pushing forward,” Wani says.
Other technology companies have also realized the opportunities for AI in building disaster resilience. For instance, Microsoft, the University of Vermont, and the Chesapeake Conservancy partnered to generate a high-resolution map for flood planners that uses AI to recognize natural and built features. One Concern sees initiatives like these as complementary rather than competitive in the mission for planetary-scale resilience.
Growing One Concern’s Impact
Wani’s current focus for One Concern is recruiting “the most talented, mission-driven team of AI experts, hazard modelers, data scientist, and engineers.” To Wani, One Concern’s core value of benevolence is all about “hiring the right team members, working with the right partners, investors, advisors and customers.”
One Concern’s deep commitment to social impact could give it a competitive edge in attracting top technical talent. Not often does a company measure its success first and foremost from the lives it can save.