The International workshop “Increasing Resilience to Natural hazards through Information and Communication Technology”, organised on 14-15 September 2016 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, will bring together policy-makers, emergency service providers and science and technology experts from different European countries to discuss key issues and deficiencies in disaster risk reduction.

The workshop is organised by UNESCO under the European Commission-funded innovation project “Improving Resilience to Emergencies through Advanced Cyber Technologies” (I-REACT), which aims to use new information and communication technologies to support the entire emergency management cycle in case of floods, wildfires, and other extreme weather events.

 

Extreme disasters such as fires and floods cause thousands of deaths and serious economic losses around the globe. In the past 10 years, according to the United Nations, extreme events cost up to 1.7 trillion of dollars and caused 0.7 million deaths. Besides, with the ongoing rise in global temperatures due to climate change, extreme weather events and their consequences will become more and more frequent.

 

In order to respond to this growing problem, the I-REACT consortium is holding an international workshop to exchange ideas, identify deficiencies and improve current systems for disaster risk reduction. The workshop will gather civil protections, emergency responders, policy-makers, emergency service providers and science and technology experts from different European countries.

 

The event, hosted by UNESCO, is a milestone of the innovation project I-REACT. The project brings together 20 partners from 9 European countries to develop an emergency management system leveraging on new information and communication technologies, crowdsourced data and technologies such as augmented reality.

 

The two-day workshop in Paris is built upon an interactive framework in which emergency responders and international advisors will interplay with I-REACT system developers, providing feedback on how the system should be conceived, designed and developed in order to better tackle the hazards at stakes – mainly floods and wildfires. In particular, the event is aimed at how to bridge the gap between innovative solutions and end users in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) due to the lack of information, the inherent complexity of modern tools of and poor interoperability.

The workshop is consistent with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which stresses the importance of using appropriate communications, geospatial and space-based technologies together with their related services to strengthen the use of mobile phone networks to support national measures for successful disaster risk communication, as appropriate and in accordance with national laws.

 

Fabrizio Dominici, I-REACT project coordinator stresses out that “fostering discussion between the different players in the emergency management process is essential to collectively increase the resilience of societies”. In this sense, “the workshop in Paris will serve to identify venues in which I-REACT will contribute to improving prediction and management of natural disasters in real scenarios such as those faced daily by authorities, civil protection services and first-responders”.

 

On the 23rd of June 2016, a side event on “High Impact Weather and Climate Induced Emergencies” was held as part of the Fourth meeting of the Community of Users on Safe, Secure and Resilient Societies. This event was organised under the umbrella of our project and in collaboration with ANYWHERE (Enhancing emergency management and response to extreme weather and climate events), which have been recently funded under the DRS-1-2015 call for crisis management to respond to extreme weather and climate events. This session was meant to stimulate exchanges and collaboration between these two projects, as well as fostering interaction with end-users.

Both projects aim to leverage on technological advancements to increase the resilience of European citizens and assets to natural disasters. Although their approach differs in scope and technical implementation, both projects aim to provide comprehensive analysis systems to integrate multiple data sources and provide the fastest and most accurate information to all stakeholders involved in disaster prevention and management.

The event revolved around three main themes in which both projects have a crucial stake. A first discussion was held on the mechanisms to incorporate the real needs of first responders, risk managers and policy implementation organisms, in the management of high impact weather induced emergencies. At this session representatives of the Spanish administration commented on hydrometeorological Early Warning Systems, previous European project coordinators (DROUGHT-R&SPI and WMO/GWP projects) elaborated on drought management and policy making and UNESCO representatives discussed on the international cooperation in DRR issues. The second theme was centred on building a Community of Users in climate and weather induced emergencies. At this session, experiences from previous initiatives and current networks were discussed with the participation of JRC presenting the Community of Users of EFAS, the RISC-KIT project coordinator sharing experiences on the integration of stakeholders and end users of hydro-meteorological events in the coastal zone, and the online tool USHAHIDI was presented as a way to link citizens during disasters. The third theme was focused on the market uptake of the DRS solutions, potentially those developed as part of I-REACT and ANYWHERE projects. Discussion around this issue was held by representatives from the I-REACT partners AQUOBEX, specialised in technological solutions to floods, and geo-information specialists GEOVILLE, in addition to the ANYWHERE partner AIRBUS, that presented different technological solutions on DRR.

Overall, the event fostered synergies and collaborations between past and present European projects, and end-users, in order to integrate information and provide joint solutions to the management of disaster risks and crises of different kinds.

I-REACT has just started. It will help in preventing and managing emergency situations. Thanks to I-REACT, emergency responses will be more coordinated, costs will be reduced and citizens will be actively involved.

The future of natural disasters management starts in Turin: I-REACT, a 6.5 m€ project funded by the European Commission aimed at creating a real time prevention and management system for natural disasters, has just started. The Istituto Superiore Mario Boella from Turin is the coordinator of a project that brings together 20 European partners, including research centres, IGOs (e.g., UNESCO), public entities and SMEs that will support the commercial exploitation of the project.

By 2018 I-REACT (Improving Resilience to Emergencies through Advanced Cyber Technologies) will implement a platform that, thanks to advanced technologies, will be able to gather and analyse various data sources to generate real-time information on floods, fires, earthquakes and other natural hazards. The interoperability with Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS), the liaison with UNESCO and with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) of the United Nations will further enhance the expected outputs.

I-REACT is built on the outcomes of the FLOODIS project, which ended in 2015 and was focused on implementing a crowdsourcing approach to support the emergency response in case floods. FLOODIS implemented a smartphone application to collect real-time reports from both citizens and civil protection agents, and to provide short and long-term projections of the flood extent for supporting in-field emergency rescue units. I-REACT exploits the same approach, multiplying the opportunities: on top of photos taken from smartphones, IREACT will exploit also social media, capturing messages and images from Instagram and Twitter, it will collect satellite images as well as reports from wearable technologies (bands, smart glasses) worn by on-site operators.

By means of a BigData architecture built into the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, I-REACT will gather all the aforementioned information and will provide accurate and near-real time forecasts of emergency events. Citizens will be actively engaged through gamification techniques aimed at maximizing their inputs, i.e., data and pictures taken from their smartphones. Gamification is the application of gaming concepts in non-gaming context, and it has been proven effective in engaging users and keeping them active.

I-REACT is a European project funded within the Horizon 2020 Program. Italy plays a pivotal role in the project. In fact, apart from its coordinator Istituto Superiore Mario Boella of Turin (a leading Information technology and Telecommunications research centre), the Politecnico di Torino, the Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Celi, JoinPad and CSI Piemonte are all part of the consortium. The team also encompasses various European partners that will support to design and implement I-REACT in order to facilitate its market uptake and its long term sustainability: Geoville, Eoxplore, Terranea, Alpha Consult, UNESCO, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Meteosim, Bitgear, Ansur, Technical University of Vienna, Scienseed, Aquobex, Answare, and JRC (the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission).