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Augmented Reality Glasses

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.

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.

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.