Manage Disaster and Build Resilient Smart Cities

Disaster Management

India’s ambitious smart city project needs an effective disaster management plan to combat natural disasters and man-made disruptions in smart cities. Smart cities have been gathering a lot of traction of late, mostly due to the government’s increased efforts to secure high-quality urban life. Looking at the rapid increase in man-made disruptions and natural catastrophes such as heavy rain and floods, disaster management and emergency response mechanisms are indisputably treated as the most integral factor for the development of smart cities.

In June 2013, over 5000 people were estimated to be dead after a series of cloud bursts that caused severe floods and devastating landslides in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. The heavy rainfall resulted in the collapse of the tourism and hospitality sector, which contributes close to 30-35% of Uttarakhand's GDP.

Serious misgivings were raised on the coordination between the different authorities involved in flood forecast, flood management and backup operations. The state of affairs has not improved much during the last five years. In 2017, following heavy rains, the state of Gujarat was affected by severe floods resulting in more than 200 deaths.

The Chennai floods have again questioned urban planning and disaster management efforts. As India’s fourth largest metropolitan city, Chennai’s lack of resilience to natural disasters is a big concern, and such instances need to be tackled with adequate IT and digital infrastructure.

The authorities can minimize the flood-related destruction only if flood forecasting is accurate. In the absence of resilience to natural hazards, smart cities will not be robust enough to attract investments and employment opportunities.

Need for Better Planning
India’s unpreparedness for natural disasters is supported by a recent report by the Socio Economic & Educational Development Society (SEEDS) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), which states that as much as 56% of smart cities are prone to floods which are responsible for 77% of all disasters in India. The report is based on disaster data between 2000 and 2017, and states that India has a mean of 11 flood events per district over the last 18 years.

According to another report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Asia has the highest number of people exposed to floods from possible storm surge events, particularly in China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia. All this results in an alarming situation.

Considering the above, it is exceedingly important for India to carry out risk assessments and apply modern day technological inventions such as IoT sensors to develop an exceptional Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Concrete efforts are required to deploy efficient disaster warning systems and watershed management programmes to assure our future cities continue to function smoothly despite serious challenges, such as floods.

Smart Solutions — The Way Forward
By leveraging the benefits of big data, such as learning algorithms, IoT sensors from storm drains and satellite image review, the local government can determine when to evacuate citizens and initiate disaster preparation during the possibility of rising tides and heavy rainfall.

There are several global examples, which India can refer to while developing a robust flood management programme for its smart cities. One of the most worthy examples could be of Buenos Aires, the capital and most populous city of Argentina.

Buenos Aires is a port city built on nine streams, where severe flooding is not rare. In 2013, a disastrous flood and endless rain caused thousands of evacuations and over 50 casualties. It was then that the Environment and Public Spaces Ministry of the City Government of Buenos Aires (GCBA) decided to work along a concrete programme to prepare the city better and mitigate the hazards caused by heavy rainfall.

Buenos Aires enhanced and optimized its IT infrastructure with enterprise major SAP’s Mobile Platform and SAP Process Integration technology. It put IoT enabled radar sensors into the drains to monitor floods and 1500 kilometres of the drainage pipeline infrastructure went live. The information is fed into the SAP HANA system through which the city authorities analyze weather reports, the status of garbage collection, and citizens’ complaints about blocked drains and unattended refuse.

The SAP HANA system helps the city administration to analyze the sensor data in real time and also enables them to take timely actions during a possible crisis situation, like a deluge. By analyzing IoT sensor data on the SAP HANA platform, the new system has enabled Buenos Aires to predict floods to a great extent. It notifies the city’s residents of potential dangers, and also helps the GCBA to reach out to areas that need immediate support. Post deployment of the system, the city has been able to clear all of its 30,000 storm drains even if it suffers heavy rainfall and has stayed flood-free.

With the metrics and dashboards, Buenos Aires has been able to collect information for more reliable decision making and determine precisely how much work has been done and how much more is left to be done. This has essentially replaced manual equipment maintenance tasks with remote and automated systems.