IOT In Disaster Management: Saving Lives With Early Warning

Case Study: Rio Operations Centre

Due to high population density, poor evacuation infrastructure and exposure to severe weather events, developing countries are disproportionately exposed to the risks of natural disasters, and often have limited means to mitigate their effects. As a consequence, according to a World Bank study, more than 95 per cent of all deaths caused by disasters occur in developing countries.

Compensating For Scarce Infrastructure

IoT technologies can’t stop disasters from happening, but can be very useful for disaster preparedness, such as prediction and early warning systems. In this way IoT can compensate for a poor infrastructure that puts developing and emerging countries in a particularly vulnerable position.

Take for example the monitoring of forest fires: sensors on trees can take measurements that indicate when a fire has broken out, or there is a strong risk, e.g. temperature, moisture, CO2 and CO levels. If there is a critical combination of these parameters, early warning systems alert the local population and request help. The firefighters when they arrive have detailed information about the location and spread of the blaze.

Other IoT applications are being developed for different kinds of disaster: microwave sensors that can be used to measure earth movements before and during earthquakes, for example, or infrared sensors that can detect and measure floods and movements of people.

An Alternative Means Of Communication

IoT innovations could not only help in disaster preparedness, but also disaster resilience. The vast deployment of IoT-enabled devices (often battery powered and able to operate and transmit wirelessly) could bring benefits in terms of data network resilience in face of disaster. IoT devices could enable limited communication services (e.g. emergency micro-message delivery) in case the conventional communication infrastructure is out of service.14 Hence, even though disaster resilience is not their primary purpose, this side-effect of providing a viable alternative communication infrastructure could prove extremely valuable in locations where the conventional infrastructure is weak, vulnerable or non-existent, as the following example shows.

Rio Operations Centre

Rio Operations Centre

Built in reaction to the fatal landslides in spring 2010, the Rio de Janeiro City Hall Operations Centre was launched in December of the same year, and is still the state-of-the art intelligence centre in the world. In cooperation with IBM, the city of Rio built the centre to manage complex city environments, incidents and emergencies. The centre monitors the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To be prepared for critical incidents like landslides and flooding, sensors contribute to data feeds about weather, traffic, police and medical services in real-time. They anticipate problems and put defences in place to mitigate their impact. An IBM weather and forecasting programme can predict emergencies up to two days in advance. If an emergency occurs, people and communities are alerted via social media, conventional media channels and SMS. In high-risk areas, sirens are also used to evacuate the population.

By coordinating all these activities, Rio de Janeiro is coming close to integrating all the functions of a city in one single command and control system.

Country: Brazil
Technology: Various sensors (e.g. traffic, weather) + geo-reference system + operations centre
Partners: City of Rio de Janeiro, IBM


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