Security and Disaster Response

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Minimizing Impact of Floods Using IoT


Southeast Asia is gearing up for deeper waters, literally. With climate change causing torrential rains for longer periods, massive and more destructive flooding is becoming the new normal. Since most economies in the region rely on agriculture and natural resources, the impact of flooding ultimately lead to significant downslide in economy and a grim increase of poverty levels. In the news, we see hundreds of hectares of rice fields and farms inundated in water, houses destroyed, and  people devastated by the loss of lives and property. Urban areas are equally not spared by extreme flooding as thousands of homes  are damaged or totally destroyed and as people’s lives come to a halt, economy shuts down resulting to heavy losses for many businesses.  According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) , people living in rural areas are severely threatened by climatic impacts because of their limited adaptive capacity. Even in the cities and suburbs, however, limited capability in disaster mitigation and adaptation lead to devastating consequences. This is especially real when flooding occurs and the government and people seem to be helpless in the face of its destruction.

Worst hit by flooding are poor regions in southeast Asia like the Philippines (credits: DW)

But technology, more specifically, IoT, can change this. Scientists have developed technological innovation purposely to allow human beings to adapt and survive through the adverse effects of climate change. The latest invention is a wireless sensor network that have the capability to detect floods, thus giving disaster responders to act faster and more efficiently.

Minimizing adverse impact of flooding

According to a report released by UNICEF in 2012, over eight million people in Southeast Asia are affected by massive, often destructive and fatal, flooding.  This is why international aid has poured to many countries in the region to build the capability of governments and emergency responders to prevent and mitigate disaster. What if the disaster responders are able to use technology to accurately predict whether a certain area will be flooded on what day and time, the volume and height of flood water, the length of time before it recedes and the amount of damage it cause.

This map shows that Southeast Asian incur the heaviest GDP loss due to exposure to floods. (credits: NASA- CEDAC)

Why is it very important to manage flood risks using the Internet of Things? Major reasons are obvious, such as preventing death and destruction.  Other reasons include protecting the economic activity and lessening the risk for businesses. With technology on hand, transportation routes and commercial properties are protected as well. It will minimize the impact of flood on agricultural crops because, with IoT, it is possible to reduce the severity of the flood.  Manufacturing plants and installations that utilize toxic chemicals  also have the possibility to contaminate water and put the health of many people at risk. The network of sensors can detect water contamination and send alert signals to responders.  Most brilliantly, technology allows for the utilization of excess water damaging the streets and farms by diverting it to productive uses.

So how can IoT achieve all these?

We will elaborate on this later, but first let us take a look at how flood detection is presently done.  Manual readings are often done in most developing countries. This involves a person assigned to physically watch the water level meter usually drawn or painted on the edge of a river. Such a manner of measuring  river outflow is not scalable as it cannot measure long rivers that stretch to kilometric lengths. Some scientists also rely on information fed from satellites in outer space. But for Southeast Asia, this may not be very effective as natural disasters occur more frequently and available data from satellite footages  can take many kilometric years before the information arrives.

Wireless sensor network is an alternative way to detect early flood signs and monitoring flood-prone areas. This technology can efficiently predict the risk of flooding, and more. It can monitor weather conditions and the amount of rainfall that will come down in a certain period of time. In short, the wireless sensor networks are cost-effective and scalable and allows for very early detection of rising flood waters.

A flood detection IoT system makes it possible to determine likeliness of flooding in a local area and predict its depth, and if it is potentially destructive. Using remote monitoring, measuring the increase of water level and instantly generating alerts wirelessly is now possible. Sensors can be placed along the riverbed to monitor a rise and quickly predict flooding. Another sensor can also be setup to monitor water level and weather conditions.  Data can be collected using event-based sensors and agriculture-based sensors and link it up with a wireless sensor network. The network then sends out the information to responders which are wireless receivers that process the sensor data for visualization and generating alerts or calls to action. These are then utilized by decision makers or emergency responders to send out early warnings or respond to flood-struck areas.

Sensor Technologies that can be used to monitor water level and detect flooding.

Wireless sensory technology leads the way to the future. If the future looks bleak because of climate change, IoT can make it a lot less darker and a lot more proactive than reactive. With sensor technologies becoming a more effective adaptation option, IoT is bound to be included in climate change mitigation and adaptation programs such as: solutions for sustainable drainage system and automation of storm water drainage infrastructure. With regards to the drainage infrastructure, this allows for productive use of flood water. Here, water is captured and re-directed to another area where it can cause less damage, and in many cases, can be used to, for example , irrigate vegetation or increase clean water supply.

In any case, the end goal is to mitigate damage to both lives and property, by early detection, prediction, and early planning.

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