HAMNET Report 14 May 2017

Firstly, may I echo the wishes mentioned in the Headquarters bulletin, to all Mothers out there, for a very special and happy Mother’s day. Without you, we wouldn’t be here listening to this bulletin. In fact, without you, we wouldn’t be!

From, Globes, Israel’s Business Arena, comes news about disaster forecasting.

There are not yet any technologies capable of detecting in advance signs of an approaching natural disaster and providing people with reliable and adequate warning that can save human life. A new system being developed by Motorola Solutions, however, is designed to make coping with such crises and managing them substantially easier.

Development of this system began recently, after Motorola Solutions Israel won a  European Union tender for rapid and precise management of natural disasters and extreme events, based on data from sensors and indices that, when processed and analyzed, can provide the relevant forces in the field with an up-to-date status report.

Research and academic institutions in European countries are also partners in the venture led by Motorola Solutions. The pilot will take place in three cities, each of which has a problem with natural disasters: Thessaloniki, Greece, which suffers from extreme heat waves; Venice, Italy, which experiences frequent flooding; and Valencia, Spain, where forest fires are a frequent occurrence.

Although the developers of the system would have loved to develop a means of warning long in advance of a deadly impending natural disaster, at this stage, they will settle for a system able to manage the large quantity of relevant data that will enable hospital managers, police commanders, fire departments, and other initial responding rescue forces to make correct decisions, and  rapidly to take control of any catastrophe with a minimum number of casualties.

The system is being developed in the framework of a project called BeAware. It will be adapted to any scenario designed for it by the end user. The system is based on special physical sensors and databases of many authorities, including data from similar past extreme events; sensors adapted when necessary to testing the level of humidity in the air, the direction and strength of the wind, weather forecasting, and temperatures in real time; the sea level; traffic light control systems in the designated cities, etc. To these are added many other indices to be gathered by the system in real time: mobile phones of residents or visitors in each area will inform the system in real time how many people are in each area relevant to an analysis of an event, the state of occupancy in hotels or leisure centres, the number of students in schools at any given moment, the level of crowding in nearby hospitals and the state of the roads, so that rescue forces can select available access routes without getting stuck in endless traffic jams at a time when they are hurrying to extinguish fires or evacuating casualties for first aid treatment.

“Statistically, in every year for the past 30 years, tens of millions of people in the world have been affected by natural disasters of various types. It has been predicted that natural disasters will become more frequent in the coming years,” Motorola Solutions Israel VP business development Boris Kantsepolsky told “Globes.” “As of now, at least, the only possible way of handling such disasters is to find a better way of minimizing them, and we can do that using the existing available technological means developed over the past decade.”

The world has already been in an environment of large quantities of dynamic data. Almost every broadcasting device user can constitute a sensor in himself for such a system. Usually, however, these data are not processed or analyzed to produce an integrated and indicative picture which, if it does not prevent the next natural disaster, will at least make its management possible. “The challenge is sharing data and fusing information,” Kantsepolsky says. “The system will operate all the time, collect data, analyze them, and make correlations between them and the relevant reference scenarios for any entity that operates it. In an exceptional event scenario, it will facilitate a smooth transition from a routine situation to an emergency, in which every party involved in managing the event receives information relevant to him via a comfortable interface on the computer, tablet, smartphone, or communications device of the initial responders in the various theatres.”

Concern about flooding in Venice does not mean much to the average Israeli, who has his own troubles involving terrorism and military conflicts in one of the world’s craziest regions. For Motorola Solutions, the same thing that will improve the handling of the civilian population in the event of heat waves in Thessaloniki or widespread forest fires in Valencia can also be good for a small country surrounded by enemies, rockets, missiles, and nervous terrorists with machetes.

This all adds up to a very wide network of information assimilation, making available to all agencies all the data needed at the time to formulate a rapid response to disaster situations, both natural and manmade. It needed the development of the “Internet of Things” to make this data-gathering and distribution possible.

There’s just time left at the end of this bulletin to mention the dam situation. Apart from the Eastern Cape, whose dams are steady at 62% full, below the 72% of last year, poor Western Cape’s dams are the only ones to be a percentage point lower than last week at 20% full, compared to 31% this time last year. Remember, at least half of this 20% is unusable, because it will be too muddy and contaminated to be purified for domestic use. So we have water for about 30 days left in our storage dams. Further drastic steps are about to be implemented to reduce wastage, by reducing pressure in taps, and perhaps shedding, as was practised during the electricity shortages of a few years ago. There has been minimal rainfall this week in the Western Cape, and very little in the catchment areas. We watch the Western skies for signs of cold fronts with keen anticipation.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.