Better flood warnings over the phone
An EU-funded project has brought together satellite-imaging data with crowd-sourced information from a mobile phone app to provide better information and warnings for citizens and emergency responders during flooding events.
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Flooding is a major hazard which comes at a significant human and economic cost. Since 1980, more than 3 800 flooding events have occurred across Europe, affecting over 3 billion people and causing more than 230 000 deaths. The economic losses have totalled more than EUR 600 billion. Furthermore, the risk of flooding is increasing in many places as the result of climate change.
Currently, floods are usually monitored using satellite imaging gathered through the European Copernicus programme, together with data collected locally, where available. However, it can take several days to gather this information which poses a major challenge for local authorities and disaster management services trying to respond to rapid flash flooding.
To overcome this problem, the EU-funded FLOODIS project developed a system to bring satellite-imaging data together with crowdsourced information gathered from local people, including emergency responders and citizens, to build approximate real-time maps of the extent of flooding during an emergency situation.
The system also uses the Sensor Observation Service (SOS) provided by the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) and 2-dimensional hydrogeological algorithms to predict short-term flood areas more accurately than ever before.
Our platform lets local users send in field reports through a mobile application, such as photos and water-level estimates during flood events, says project coordinator Fabrizio Dominici of the Istituto Superiore Mario Boella in Italy.
Because these reports are tagged with a geographical location, we can use cloud-computing facilities and prediction algorithms to combine them with satellite data and provide real-time information about the flooded area together with the prediction of the flood evolution.
The validation of crowdsourced reports by citizens plays an important role in FLOODIS. Each citizen report is shared for just three days to ensure that information is always fresh, and professionals can flag incorrect or inaccurate reports to prevent the spread of misinformation.
Furthermore, the FLOODIS system can send out alerts to users in an area that is at high risk of imminent flooding, so citizens and local authorities can take steps to save lives, homes and livelihoods.
More generally, FLOODIS set out to engage local people more deeply with the emergency management procedures in their region, increasing social awareness about floods and providing useful information to help emergency responders.
The system has been demonstrated in two trial scenarios where flooding is common Veneto region (Italy) and Shkodra city (Albania). Civil protection, local authorities and volunteers in each location used the mobile app and the web-based control centre to respond to a simulated flood, which was based on previous flooding events. They reported that it was a significant improvement on existing monitoring systems.
FLOODIS is now part of the larger EU-funded I-REACT programme that brings together cutting-edge monitoring and emergency management strategies for a wider range of natural disasters, including floods, fires and extreme weather events. A public-facing app will soon be available, too.
By bringing together citizens and civil protection agencies, we hope that FLOODIS will make a major difference to the impact of flooding across Europe and beyond, says Dominici. Not only does our approach have the potential to save money by reducing the economic losses of flooding and cutting the costs of disaster management, but more importantly it will also save lives.