Posts

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.

 

When Hurricane Katrina hit the American coast in 2005 Facebook was a newcomer to a still-to-be-developed world wide web, there was no Twitter to have news updates and less than 70% of citizens owned a mobile phone. Today, with more portable devices than citizens and an ever-constant interaction through social networks, the way we obtain and share information during crisis has drastically improved. This is proving very helpful in recent crisis like the 2013 super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines where Twitter was the single greatest information source for response and recovery efforts.

Social media is becoming essential for authorities to access vital information provided by citizens that would not be available otherwise, which improves the prevention and response to critical events. However, social network information is largely unstructured arising from the fact that everyone can be an information source. From eyewitnesses to emergency responders or NGOs, that can provide information from the ground, to mass media that amplifies the message, or even outsiders showing sympathy and emotional support. In this context, there are many factors that affect how the information flows, such as the use of hashtags which is very diverse and can sometimes hamper the identification of relevant data. Thus, it is necessary to analyse social media to place the pieces of the puzzle together.

The extraction and analysis of social media information is an important part within the I-REACT project. This information obtained from citizens will complement data coming from earth observations, UAVs, or emergency responders, among others, to provide real time data on floods, wildfires, earthquakes and other natural disasters. For this, Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies developed by the I-REACT partner CELI, are being used to analyse big data streams from social media.

To do this, great amounts of information are initially collected from social networks by using searches on generic keywords such as “earthquake” or “flood”. Although this information will be unstructured, all or most of the emergency-related material will be gathered this way. Since this data can be compared to that of past events and to “regular” behaviours on social networks, a vital information will be generated: detecting if something unexpected is going on and spotting the occurrence of an emergency in real time.

This information will then be validated through linguistic analysis and machine learning techniques. Here, it is possible to select the emergency-related contents and identify useful information such as the type and location of event, the casualties, or the damage to infrastructures and services. In addition, we can also have information about the sentiment of the message, which is important to create panic maps and to prioritise actions on the ground. And once the event is concluded, the system keeps collecting data so that it can be continuously tested in spotting new emergencies from social media. This way, this tool will progressively learn and refine its ability to identify disasters.

Overall, social media analysis provides fast and relevant information during emergencies, highlighting the fact that these communication channels are not only changing the way we live and interact with each other, but also making every citizen an essential part in the fight against disasters.

 

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”.