How mobile technology can be used in preparedness, response and early warning to monitor floods

Over the past several weeks, the United Kingdom has experienced severe flooding, which has affected residents, disrupted local businesses and transport and led to significant property and environmental damage. Politicians, members of the public and the media have all been raising questions about what these floods might mean for resilience and risk in the future as we face a changing climate and an increase in extreme weather.

Our Disaster Response team at the GSMA has been exploring how mobile technology can be used in disaster preparedness and early warning to monitor flood risk and support communities and responders facing the challenges that these events pose. Recent extreme weather events in the UK and North America remind us that the impact of a changing climate will not be limited to the developing world, or tropical regions, and that a global view of potential solutions and partnerships is essential to build more resilient environments and communities.

Below are some examples of innovation from within the UK and other countries:

UK: Flood hackathon 

The UK government hosted a hackathon over the weekend to encourage the digital community to come together and look at new ways of applying technology-based solutions to the flood crisis. Startups, technology companies and developers were given access to near real-time data from flood sensors across the country and other data points that are typically not available to the public. Entries included early warning systems based on push-SMS as well as mobile-based reporting systems that enable residents to report damaged flood defences. The hackathon raised the importance (and challenges) of opening up and pairing government data with technology and the opportunity this can enable for improved information and more resilient communities. More on the hackathon

Mobile Apps: FloodFighter in Thailand

UNESCO and OpenDream have partnered together in Thailand to launch a gaming app called FloodFighter, aimed at informing youth about the risks of flooding and equipping them with knowledge and tools to respond. The game, which features 22 lessons, combines entertainment and learning to present real-life scenarios which young people may encounter and is planned for rollout across the region. More information on the FloodFighter App

Wireless Flood Early Warning Systems in India

In India, the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme and its partners are working on a community based, mobile-enabled early warning system to inform downstream villages about changes in water levels and ensuing risk via SMS so they can take precautionary measures. Wireless flood sensors trigger a mobile-based alert system, providing real time monitoring and actionable information. More information on this system.

Big Data: Digital Delta in the Netherlands

Last spring, IBM and the Dutch Government partnered on a project to integrate Big Data analytics and visualisation into flood and drought management in order  to ensure that response agencies and communities had more comprehensive and up to date information. The project highlights the complexity of aggregating disparate data sets from multiple organisations in a meaningful way for decision makers and the public. It is estimated that flooding costs the Netherlands an average of €7 billion annually, a figure which is set to rise unless new solutions developed with a long term view of risk reduction are built into the system. More information on the Digital Delta project.

We’ve seen lots of interesting research and thought leadership from academic and NGO groups such as Flowminder, UN Global Pulse, Orange D4D and Telefonica Labs highlighting how mobile “Big Data” can be used as a tool for mapping population displacement and its potential to show resilience and vulnerability to environmental risks and events, especially when paired with additional data sources.

Our team is excited to see how this kind of work can be built upon to improve capacity to response to floods and other natural disasters. In addition to new ways of using mobile, data and other wireless technology, simple initiatives, such as a pub providing free mobile charging in Staines, UK, for flood-affected residents without power remind us that a marriage between simple and high technology and community-centered innovation and service development are essential to better equipping citizens, governments and response agencies to meet the challenges that a changing climate presents.

See a video on UK community flood efforts

Photo: Flooding in Somerset, UK, by nicksarebi via Flickr.