The threats to our cities seem endless: from flash floods to pollution, from overcrowding to the risk of pandemics.
To avoid crises, many cities have invested in technology – the theory is that if you can see the scale of the problem, you can start figuring out what to do about it.
So sensors that measure crowds, river levels and pollution have gradually become a part of our urban infrastructure as much as street lamps and traffic lights.
But despite the investment, this year we have seen significant flash floods around the world, including in cities like London and New York. So does the technology work?
A so-called intelligent flood prevention system was in place in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou when thunderstorms left at least 302 deaths in July.
The platform, from Aerospace Shenzhou Smart System Technology Company, has promised to allow authorities to monitor water levels in real time through smart sensors and analytics. He had access to meteorological and hydrological data.
- Flood prevention systems should combine technology with better emergency planning systems
- Cities cannot rely on forecasts alone: knowing where the discharges are, for example, should enable a better response to emergencies
- Modern mapping techniques can help cities know which areas to prioritize investment
It is unclear whether the system failed to pinpoint the impending floods or whether the government simply did not act based on the information received, but investigations continue.
But on Chinese social media, some have wondered if such smart city technology was a waste of money.
UK company Previco offers its own flood warning system and co-founder Dr. Avi Baruch told the BBC that there may be lessons to be learned, but that “it would be wrong to rush to judge”.
He said such systems should work in tandem with other contingency plans.
“Companies need to raise their defenses, protect key assets and get to the scene faster if there’s a warning,” he said. “Local authorities need to consider introducing pumps, cleaning drains and closing roads so as to eliminate the problem of cars floating on the streets.”
Forecastico is currently working with several cities, including London, Birmingham and Manchester, to predict where flooding could occur.
Its real-time modeling system, which offers hyper-local forecasts to business customers and local authorities, was up and running when the floods hit London in July, although a review of its operation has not yet been completed.
Robert Muggah is a political scientist and co-founder of the Igarape Institute, dealing with issues related to urbanization.
“There has been a lot of energy and investment in smart technology to help cities mitigate and adapt to climate change, but many have not been thoroughly tested,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of hype and also some very obvious limitations.”
So, for example, many cities have access to weather data that can accurately predict rainfall levels, but he says there are other factors to consider.
“Cities have invested in the laying of concrete and asphalt which is exacerbating the risk of flooding.” He added: “It’s not just about mapping rainfall and storm surges, but also about understanding the built environment.”
For cities where heat is a problem, the urgent need in the last summer months was for a technology that could help fight forest fires.
In California, firefighters used a program known as FireGuard, which uses data from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
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This includes satellite data and military drone images which are then aggregated, analyzed and evaluated by two teams of Air Force and Army National Guard intelligence analysts.
“From that they produce sanitized unclassified products that go to the fire brigade community,” Major Jan Bender wrote on the US Department of Defense website.
Maps showing the location of fires are updated every 15 minutes.
So when a fire trapped more than 100 hikers and campers in California’s Sierra National Forest, FireGuard provided an exact location allowing for a quick evacuation, which, according to fire chiefs, saved lives.
Map the favelas
As cities start thinking about climate in their daily planning, they need to consider where they invest in technology and what their priorities are when it comes to potential disasters, says Muggah.
Often the most exposed areas of a city are those least likely to have smart tech or, in some cases, even to be mapped.
Professor Carlo Ratti and his team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab recently used portable Lidar (light sensing and sensing) scans in Brazil to map Rio’s largest favela, Rocinha. It provided details about the environment that previous maps simply weren’t able to get,
It will help, Professor Ratti said, identify a number of problems, such as landslide-prone areas, but smart science is only smart if it works in tandem with real action.
“You can develop maps that show what needs to be fixed, but unless it’s paired with someone who will fix it, it’s all in vain,” he said.
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This Article is Sourced from BBC News. You can check the original article here: Source