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This last month has been a busy one for I-REACT. We completed the first half of the project, and presented our technology for the first time ever. But we haven’t stop there. This month we also organised two workshops: one in Boston, USA, and the other one in Incheon, South Korea.

In them, we were able to gather selected groups of professionals to discuss how modern technologies can be integrated in the fight against disasters, and the different solutions we are developing. Just so you do not miss anything, here is our brief summary of the two workshops:

I-TENDER

The I-TENDER workshop focused on how public safety services can benefit from the use of technology to respond against disasters. Claudio Rossi presented a Keynote on I-REACT project, while the other 9 presentations presented papers on how to use data analysis to filter relevant information on a disaster situation; how positioning techniques can improve the response and safety of rescue parties and emergency responders; and how technology helps in the deployment of public-safety and emergency networks.

The workshop took part in Incheon, South Korea, on December 12 and was hosted within the ACM CoNext Conference. A list of all the papers presented at the workshop can be found here, and more information on the workshop can be consulted here.

DSEM

The Data Science for Emergency Management (DSEM) was centered on the role of Big Data and Data Science in the natural hazard management area.

The keynote speaker, Prof. Carlos Castillo, presented an overview about the current state of the art on the Big Crisis Data topic and provided interesting insights on a better exploitation of crowdsourcing solutions. The DSEM workshop featured papers on novel and innovative solutions for emergency management: social media and unstructured data, crowdsourcing and user feedback, forecasting models, decision support systems, and resource allocation and crowd control during emergencies.

The workshop was held on December 11, 2017 in Boston, USA, co-located with the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Big Data. A list of all the papers presented at the workshop can be found here, and more information on the workshop can be consulted here.

We close this 2017 with a lot of activity,but we are not stopping here. This 2018 we are organizing a workshop within the ISCRAM 2018, the 15th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management. The workshop will be in May, but the deadline for submitting your paper is on January 15, so send it now!

“Today we can expect a 50% chance of rain…” How many times have you heard these words on the TV weather forecast? Have you ever wondered why weather-people talk about percentages? Rain, winds, temperatures… all these phenomena come with their number attached: the chance they might occur. This is the result of complex mathematical formulas of the physics behind the meteorological processes, inserted in computational models that forecasters use to predict the way weather will behave.

Since all weather forecasts models are chaotic, tiny variations on the parameters on those models lead to different results of the forecasts. These results imply different scenarios in the real life: it may rain cats and dogs, it may be a gentle rain or it may not even rain at all, but how likely is each option? In the case of rain, they combine two different factors: the confidence that it will rain someplace in the forecast area, and the percentage of that area that will receive rain if it rains. This is what meteorologist call probability of precipitation.

And, if this is important for your day-to-day forecast (so you know whether to take your umbrella or your sunglasses), imagine how important it is when we talk about extreme weather-related disasters and how to prevent them. Emergency responders and decision makers need to have at their tables all the different possible scenarios and know how likely is each one of them to happen, so they can take the best possible decisions. That is why at I-REACT we are including weather-related data and models into our I-REACTOR, the system that will integrate this information altogether with satellite and UAVs images, crowdsourced information and many other data sources and technologies, to provide detailed disaster risk maps for Europe.

Forecasting extreme events (like high levels of precipitations or strong winds) is key for preventing disasters. And to do this, special forecasts, different from the weather forecasts you see on TV, must be designed. Our colleagues at the Finnish Meteorological Institute are in charge of providing the extreme weather-related data. This means that they feed different extreme weather scenarios to the system, each one of them accompanied by a number: the chance that that particular scenario may happen. By doing so, FMI is able to provide different thresholds for risks: a probability that may seem tiny for normal events can be of huge importance when associated with extreme weather events.

Instead of delivering a unique weather prediction, FMI runs several simulations with slightly different initial conditions, so we can know the different scenarios and know how likely is each one of them to happen. This is called the Ensemble method. To calculate these different scenarios, FMI uses complex numerical models that run on supercomputers. The accuracy of those models depends highly on the initial conditions: the starting points of the simulation, consisting on real data taken from satellite images, meteorological stations and other sources.

To provide the most reliable results, FMI is feeding their models the best available data at the moment: high resolution maps gathered from weather systems across Europe, with a resolution down to 7 kilometres on a European scale, and a 3 Km resolution on a national scale. a much higher resolution in comparison with the usual map in you TV weather forecast which resolutions usually goes down to 20 km.

By combining better resolution maps and more accurate probabilities for extreme events, I-REACT will be of great help in saving lives thanks to cutting-edge technological advances. Against disasters, we have a fighting chance. And now, we are better at calculating these chances.

It was not by chance that drones became the gadget of the year in 2014. By then, thousands of units were being sold worldwide with prices ranging 30€ to 30,000€ and big electronic retailers were reporting huge surges in sales. Now, a few years down the line, this trend has continued in the rise and drones are a relatively common leisure for taking pictures and shooting impressive aerial videos. However, did you know they can also be used to fight disasters?

After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, an unprecedented number of drones patrolled the skies to aid in the humanitarian response. Thanks to this, a much rapid mapping of the affected areas was possible, which was essential to setting up humanitarian base camps, detecting the most affected communities, locating victims in need of help, and assessing the state of infrastructures for transportation, among others.

The importance of drones in disasters is that they provide a quick view from above of the affected zone. For decades, this information was only obtainable using planes for aerial photos, or satellites, which have a number of limitations including cost, data sharing restrictions, cloud cover, and the time needed to acquire images. In contrast, UAVs can provide a bird’s eye perspective quickly, if people are at site, and at a far higher resolution and at much lower cost.

An additional key aspect is that drones can also offer a view that is not perpendicular to the ground. For instance, when assessing damage after the disaster, whereas satellite vision allows seeing if a building has a roof but not if it has four walls, oblique vision from drones can answer this question and many others that require more three-dimensional information.

But overall, the biggest advantage is that, unlike satellites, citizens can own UAVs and this means that disaster-affected communities can participate in response to a crisis. Now, after major disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, but also the Haiti earthquake, these countries have taken the lead in involving citizens and there is a growing number of grassroots initiatives to teach local people to operate their own drones in emergencies.

At the I-REACT project we believe in the potential of citizen participation in disaster response at European level and we are developing an app that will allow connecting emergency professionals and drone users. Our partner AnsuR is leading this task to allow decision makers at control centres to request and conduct flights over affected areas, both from amateur and professional drones, in case of floods, fires and extreme weather events. This ways, they will be able to assess and ensure the relevance of the images while drones are still flying.

In order facilitate the engagement of volunteers from local areas, AnsuR is building a database for drone volunteers who potentially can be involved in the event of an emergency in their area of operation, and creating a efficient system for communicating the images they capture. This way, any European citizen from local communities can become an integral part of the fight against disasters, improving rescue operations and protecting their communities.

If you own a drone and would like to contribute, drop us a line and join us in quest for a more resilient future!

 

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 and it has been featured in the DRKMC Newsletter.

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.

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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).