Drones that go in the air to offer an overview of the extent of a flood. Wearables that locate and monitor the status of fire responders. Updated and actionable satellite information to better assess how a fire, a flood or heavy rains may evolve. These are some of the technologies we showed at our final meeting in Venice last week. We wanted this event to be an opportunity to get together European Civil Protection agencies and emergency management experts from around Europe.

Civil Protection volunteers from Protezione Civile Venezia

In this two-days meeting, the attendees were be able to test our tools first-hand, through a series of in-field simulations and flood and wildfire scenarios. We also organised a panel around citizen engagement, to discuss how to better form and communicate with citizens, to form more resilient societies. All in all, as Dr. Fabrizio Dominici, our coordinator explained: “This event represents an excellent opportunity to show the results of more than three years of hard work and close collaboration between 20 European partners. And now all the technologies are now available for Civil Protection Agencies, emergency managers and insurance companies.”
This last meeting has served as a turning point, marking the end of the research and implementation phase, funded by the European Commission, and inaugurating the breakthrough of our technologies into the market.

We are reaching the end of our project. For the last years we have developed a functioning set of tools for emergency responders, launched an app for citizens to be safe from disasters, organised demonstrations across Europe and met with a lot of emergency professionals and people interested in disaster management. So, it’s time to talk about what to expect after I-REACT project is finished, and for this we met with Dr. Fabrizio Dominici, manager at Links Foundation and coordinator of I-REACT.

It’s been two and a half years and we are on the final stretch of the project. What are your impressions?

I-REACT is a successful project. And I’m not just saying this. We have been told so in several occasions, like last December at the Security and Research Event. Several people highlighted that we have come up with a very holistic solution to disaster management. This is really thanks to the approach we took with milestones like the co-design event we organised in Paris. So, after two and a half years we have a very good product that we started from scratch. And this is something we need to be proud of.

Indeed, it has been a very busy two and a half years. What would you say that was the aspect of I-REACT that was specially challenging?

I-REACT fuses together a lot of services and data. Our project wouldn’t have been possible without efforts like Copernicus. Let’s not forget that. Together with historical data from satellites like Meteosat, and a lot of other sources, our Big Data system processes all this flood of incoming information. I-REACT could be seen as the convergence of different solutions. But it’s not just a mere collection of solutions. I-REACT is something really organic, that is able to adapt itself to different situations. Achieving that has been for me the most challenging aspect of I-REACT.

Could you expand a little bit on that?

What we have seen through our demonstrations through Europe is that we have a very fragmented situation when it comes to disaster management. Different regions have different ways of organising themselves for emergency situations. And it’s not just a matter of geographical differences. Different emergency responders —firefighters, 112, local emergency services…— operate in different ways and manage very different systems. And what we have seen in our demos again and again is that I-REACT is able to adapt itself to this changing landscape. It is nice to see that we have created a system that is able to complement the existing tools. So, we are organic and adaptable. Our project was born from a call to improve the resilience of the society, and we ourselves are resilient to the many different situations we have found.

Is there something about I-REACT that you would like to go back and change or that you would have planned different now that we are finishing?

Certainly. We always find situations that were not contemplated at the beginning. One thing that I think we underestimated were the co-design efforts. Co-designing tools are really useful. They allowed us to come up with our good results, but we underestimated a bit the efforts allocated to it. Another thing that I would change… is inherent to working with technology. The technological landscape is always changing. One of our main strengths is Artificial Intelligence: it’s at the very core of our I-REACTOR. Although AI is a big thing nowadays, back when we started in 2016, it was still in its infancy. During the project we saw an amazing growth of Artificial Intelligence, and we started with basic techniques in AI. Thankfully we were able to adapt the project accordingly. But this is not always possible within a European Project. I think that European projects, especially technological ones, would benefit if the European Commission allowed for a little bit more flexibility. Because in a project that stretches for three, four years… What is true at the proposal time may not be true after two years. So the technology is moving quickly and the project must be able to follow.

And after I-REACT, what’s next?

Here I see two different aspects. On one hand, the future of I-REACT itself. On the other hand, the future of disaster management tools in Europe.

Let’s start with the future of I-REACT.

Well, with many European funded projects we talk about research and innovation. In the case of I-REACT, we are an innovation project, meaning that is closer to the market, to be a set of tools that are at the disposal of emergency services. It’s unusual for a project to arrive at the end with a company in place to exploit the results. But we have managed that and we will see I-REACT in the market soon. You will certainly hear more about that in the coming months, and I would certainly like to see more experiences like this in Europe.

And outside of I-REACT?

As I stressed before, one of the main things that we have encountered on our demonstrations is the fragmentation of the emergency management situation around Europe. And I believe that to have a more resilient society we need to reduce this fragmentation. For the future, I see a need to build on top of the results of I-REACT, but also on the excellent results that other European projects such as Anywhere, beAware, E2mC, STORM or Comrades are getting. Every project has its strengths and weaknesses, but I think that the next move should be a push from the policy makers at a European level. A push for the adoption of the results from these projects. Because I have the impression that we jump from one project to another. Projects that have excellent results! But good results need to be finished. And finishing means to go on the market, with a systemic approach. My dream would be to see the results from I-REACT, Anywhere, beAware and all the projects we mentioned earlier put together systematically and adopted. And for that we need the support of the policy-makers that fund our projects. And for that, we need the European Commission to take a more systemic approach to emergency management landscape, to reduce the fragmentation.

On October 2017, the highway no. 1 between Turku and Helsinki was flooded. Only two of its four lanes were functioning. This incident, that may seem unimportant, resulted in more than 14 million Euros spent only in repairing the highway. The total costs, however, remain unknown: more than 55000 people use that highway on a daily basis, and a lot of the users suffered delays, losing flight and train connections.

This is the scenario in which we worked on our last demonstration in Helsinki this past week. Thanks to the efforts of our partner FMI, we joined with the Finnish Rescue Services, water authorities and other organizations from the Ministry of Interior, to role-play the response to the 2017 flood, and see how our technologies can help in these situations.

One of the attendees to our demo, using our Augmented Reality glasses

By working together with emergency management authorities, we want to learn from past experiences, to respond better to floods and other disasters. If you work in disaster management and would like to take part in one of our incoming demonstrations, drop us a line!

Today is a happy day for every single person that is part of I-REACT. After 3 years of hard work, we are finally releasing to the public the first free European app to help citizens against disasters: our smartphone app. With it, you can help keep yourself and your community safe. Did you spot a wildfire? Go to a safe place, snap a picture and upload it, along with some information. The rest of the users will be able to see your report and stay safe. Or maybe you have seen in the news that heavy rain is coming. With our app, you can check if you are at risk of suffering a flood, and be prepared!

We are launching the app today, on the International Day for Disaster Reduction. We want to contribute as much as we can to diminish the impact that disasters have. Just last year, events like floods and wildfires affected more than 95 million people, they killed more than 9,600, and cost a whopping €285 billion, making 2017 the second costliest year on record. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will get better: climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent and intense. We want you to be prepared and to have all the tools you need to fight against disasters. That’s why the app also includes a set of tips & quizzes on what to do before, during and after a weather-related emergency. All of this can be in your pocket: go to Google Play and download the app for free.

 

Sweden is currently going through its worst drought in 74 years, which has caused dozens of wildfires across the country. Millions of euros worth of land have been destroyed. As of last Thursday, 19th of July, an area similar to Stockholm has been burnt. Over a hundred people have been evacuated, while others have been advised to stay indoors with the windows shut as to avoid breathing in the fumes. Although they may come as a surprise, these fires are in line with what researchers expect from climate change: more frequent and intense disasters.

Credit: ESA

To try to reduce the impact of these emergencies, the European Union founded Copernicus, the Earth Observation Programme, which looks down on our planet and its environment. Copernicus consists of a family of satellites called the Sentinels, as well as many in-situ sensors and measurement systems that are put at the disposal of the programme by the EU Member States. Through these satellites and sensors, it monitors and forecasts the state of the environment on land, sea and in the atmosphere.

 

Among the many services that Copernicus offers, the Emergency Management Service, or EMS, is in charge of providing information for emergency response in relation to different types of disasters. In the case of the Swedish fires, the European Forest Fires Information System has been activated. This system provides near real-time and historical information on forest fires. It comprises the full fire cycle, from supplying data on the pre-fire conditions to assessing post-fire damages. Apart from fires, EMS covers other disasters like floods, landslides or earthquakes, deliberate and accidental man-made disasters and also humanitarian ones. In addition, it provides information for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities.

 

All of this information is provided completely for free to the stakeholders involved in disaster prevention. Say there’s a flood, fire or earthquake. Public and private contractors take the data from Copernicus and they create maps for the general public and disaster response teams. Within the I-REACT project, GeoVille is the partner that processes and analyses the geo-data layers supplied by the Copernicus EMS. After retrieving the data, GeoVille harmonises the data and integrates ready-to-use maps into the I-REACT platform. The more data is processed the better, as it will allow users to make better-informed decisions. Data provided by EMS on disasters such as wildfires or floods helps prevent the loss of lives, property, and damages to the environment, contributing to build more resilient societies.

 

Last week, our project completed another important milestone in Ipswich, one of the oldest cities in UK, and an area under the risk of severe floods that still remembers the “cold night of terror” of 1953 when a huge flood took the lives of 41 people. In this setting, our industrial partner Aquobex hosted a two-day meeting in which we were able to interact with different potential end-users and test all our technologies in a real scenario.

Wednesday 13th was a day to share information and learn from many experts from different areas that accepted our invitation. The interactions were really insightful and enabled us to identify gaps, opportunities, risks and potential improvements that might be made in our products.

Thursday 14th was a day for real action in a flood simulation exercise at the Orwell river in Ipswich. In collaboration with the Environment Agency and the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service, we successfully tested together all our tools for the very first time. Among others, we showed fully functional mobile app, wearables and smart glasses for first responders, numerous information layers for decision-makers and the app for citizens. And we were not only able to test our system but also to successfully compare it with one of the best systems available in Europe: the UK Environment Agency’s system.

After two partial demonstrations (in Sava river and in Piedmont, Italy) this third demo has shown us that the system is ready and mature enough to represent a real and complete alternative to existing systems and is already showing fully developed innovations such as the social media engine or the crowdsource information.

We are approaching the final stages of I-REACT, where we are going to test the technologies against disasters that we have developed in the last two years. Back in December, we organised our first in-field demonstration in collaboration with UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe and the Sava River Basin Commission. In March, we tested our technologies against floods in Piedmont, Italy. And finally, tomorrow we start our third practical demonstration of the I-REACT tools in Ipswich, UK.

Satellites, drones, augmented reality glasses, wearables, and our mobile application: these are the technologies that we will be presenting in Ipswich the 13th and 14th of June. It will be a two-day flood simulation exercise, in which we will put together all of our tools for the first time. The event is organised by our partner Aquobex, and it is supported by the Environment Agency and the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service.

The drill will simulate the flood of the Orwell river, and it will serve as a practical exercise where the selected attendees will work together in this scenario. Among the participants will be representatives from the Environment Agency, the UK Flood Forecasting Centre, and County Councils, as well as insurance professionals

Floods constitute 47% of all weather-related disasters of the last 20 years. During this period, flooding has killed 157 000 people, affected 2.3 billion people, and meant an economic loss of $662 billion. Our technological tools provide protection agencies with services that offer real-time information before, during, and after the disaster situation. Furthermore, we have developed a solution that is highly modular, which ensures that the individual tools can be adopted separately by the emergency services, so they can integrate them with existing tools. These innovative cyber technologies can provide emergency responders with a more accurate situational awareness in flood-related emergencies, which improves their response time, and in turn helps them save lives.

A year and a half ago, the region of Piedmont suffered a flood that caused €550 million losses. Back in 1994, another flood devastated the region, killing 70 people and displacing more than 2000. To improve the response against floods like these, we have been developing a set of technologies for emergency responders, citizens and decision makers that will be put to the test for the first time in the Region of Piedmont.  This will be done within a three-day flood simulation exercise that the European Consortium APELL – EUROMODEX has organised in the city of Alessandria, at the core of the Region of Piedmont.

The technological tools we have developed provide protection agencies with services that offer real-time information before, during and after the disaster situation. We integrate and models data coming from European monitoring systems like satellite observations, historical information and weather forecasts, and combine them with data gathered by our new technologies: a mobile app, a wearable, augmented reality glasses and a social media analysis tool, that monitors Twitter to gather real-time information on the disaster situation.

During the three-day drill, international emergency services coming from France, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg will simulate 25 different rescue scenarios, with a team of volunteers that will perform as families trapped by the rising water levels, people injured in the flood or citizens in need of displacement. The volunteers will test the I-REACT app, that allows them to report real-time information that can be visualized at the emergency coordination services about the flood situation, like geolocation photos.

The rescue teams will be coordinated by the “Settore Protezione Civile e Sistema Antincendi Boschivi” of the Piedmont Region, that will test for the first time our visualisation software. Thanks to this software, the experts at the control room will be able to track the position of the people affected by floods, communicate with them and see the information reported by them, shortening the response time and providing the emergency services with crucial information that will help them take the best decision possible.

When they are fully developed and tested in several drills like this one, we aspire for our technologies to be adopted among the European emergency services. Innovative cyber technologies, like the ones we propose, can provide a more accurate situational awareness and response in flood related emergencies, which improves the response of the European emergency services to floods, and help them save lives.

42  people killed, 145 hurt and more than 90 000 people evacuated. Those are the numbers of people affected by the wildfires that scorched the state of California last October. These fires destroyed more than 8500 structures, causing an estimated economic loss of 3.3 billion dollars. But these are only the direct costs. A part of California’s economy relies in wine production and the vineyards associated, some of which have burnt.

Up until last week, California was suffering also the Thomas fire in the area of Ventura, a wildfire that was active for more than a month, and is now considered the biggest wildfire in California’s history.  As of now, the economic impact that these wildfires will have in the future remains incalculable.

Figures as gigantic as these ones usually escape our comprehension. To understand the magnitude of these disasters, we can take a step back and try to see the big picture. To help us in this task, we can rely in satellite images. We have talked before about how satellites can help us tackling disasters, but now, thanks to the efforts of our colleagues at Terranea, we are able to show you how we can use Sentinel-2 imagery to estimate the area affected by wildfires.

Seeing through smoke

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Almost half of the Earth’s atmosphere is covered by clouds all the time, so if we want to keep surveillance of a wildfire from space, we must be able to peek through the clouds and smoke.

Sentinel-2 satellites are equipped with a high-resolution multispectral imager. This means that they can take the same photo in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, from the visible (the image on the left, very similar to what you would see with your naked eye) to the shortwave-infrared (image on the right). This last one is the one that allows us to have a glance through the smoke, and spot the active fires underneath: the orange lights that you can see in the photo are the fires that were active the 12 of October.

Estimating the impact: before and after

[image-comparator left=”http://www.project.i-react.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Before.jpg” right=”http://www.project.i-react.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/After.jpg” width=”100%” left_alt=”Image taken before the fires” right_alt=”Image taken after the fires” classes=”hover”][/image-comparator]

The technology on board Sentinel-2 is able to identify the different types of land and vegetation underneath: shrubland, evergreen forest, pastures, vineyards… You name it, Sentinel-2 is able to identify it, like an avid landscaper. This allows us to make a before and after comparison —the dark areas that you see in the photos above are the areas burned by wildfires. Our colleagues at Terranea develop workflows to process the data fully automatically and compose the map that you can see below.

Image showing the area afected by wildfires

A total of 8.45 square kilometers of vineyards were burnt in the Napa Valley in October. That’s three times the area of Hyde Park, in London. In comparison, the Thomas fire that is currently active in California has been estimated to have burned more than 1000 square kilometers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, affecting almost 1000 buildings, and forcing 41200 people to evacuate. The types of land cover affected is still to be determined, but the Copernicus satellites will allow us to better estimate the impact of these fires, and study their progress, so we can be best equipped the next time it happens.

Over the last 5 years, Western Balkans have been severely hit by extreme flooding events. Major floods in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015 affected hundreds of thousands of people, causing extensive damage and a high casualty toll.

We chose this region to hold the first demonstration of our disaster management tool. In this way, we wanted to show how it can facilitate the work of authorities and civil protection in the fight against floods, but also highlight how it can aid in the coordination of different countries when a disaster hits more than one nation.

Over the three days of the workshop, the participants worked together in a simulated scenario based on the May 2014 historical Sava River flood. This flood killed 79 people, affected 2.6 million people and caused 3.8 million € in damages and losses across the Sava River Basin. The workshop linked the management of these events to the different functionalities of the I-REACT system, showing how technology can play a crucial role in the fight against disasters.

In the in-field demo of I-REACT, participants could test the crowdsourcing functionalities of the mobile app. They also tested different technologies specially devised for first responders: augmented reality glasses to provide them with live information, or a wearable that allows for detailed geolocalization.

The simulation of a control room demonstrated how a great variety of data coming from different sources, and serving different purposes, could be easily visualised by authorities. These easy visualization helps authorities making decisions in the event of an emergency.

Overall, the demo was a success. It highlighted the potential of an integration tool for disaster management, while helping authorities and responders both to save time and make more informed decisions when all variables are at play. Additionally, the I-REACT team gathered important feedback from professionals. Together with the information that we obtained in Paris, this will help us fine-tune the system and facilitate the use and integration of I-REACT within different operational procedures.

The next demonstration of our system will follow to continue bringing I-REACT closer to users and to ultimately improve future response to floods, and other disasters, mitigating their impact and help saving lives.

I-REACT group photo

The workshop was organised thanks to the support of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe in collaboration with the Sava River Basin Commission and other technical partners such as Deltares, the Royal Haskoning DHV from the Netherlands, the CIMA Research Foundation and ISMB (Instituto Superiore Mario Boella) from Italy.