Using network surveillance to monitor and manage extreme weather

Andrea Sorri

Extreme weather has been and will always be a facet of the modern world, whether it be snowstorms, hurricanes bringing high winds, flooding caused by heavy rain, or wildfires spreading through forests during periods of searing high temperatures. In recent times, the ferocity of these events appears to be increasing due to the impact of climate change, posing a real threat to life and property. At the same time, human populations are becoming more concentrated in cities. In fact, over half (56%) of the world’s population lives in urban centers, meaning that the potential impact of an extreme weather event in these areas could be devastating.

Although these events cannot be prevented, detecting early warning signs and subsequently acting quickly to put safety measures in place can limit damage and improve survival rates. Surveillance cameras can be used to monitor high risk areas, collect real-time weather data and generate automatic warnings for specific changes that may signal the advent of an extreme event. This insight both supports first responders and enables quick action to mitigate impact.

Flooding puts residents’ safety at risk

One of the most critical threats that can occur in an urban environment is flooding. Following periods of heavy rainfall, drainage systems can quickly become overwhelmed, leaving key routes impassable, causing damage to infrastructure and threatening lives.

Camera and IoT sensors can help to monitor areas which are prone to flooding and alert officials once a pre-determined threshold is met. This allows measures to be quickly put in place, from communicating the crisis with affected communities via loud speaker or text message to arranging evacuation, if needed. Acting quickly can help remove people from immediate danger and enable emergency teams to re-route traffic, restrict access to dangerous areas and manage the situation as it develops.

Climate change flooding

Météo-France’s Flood Forecasting Service (SPC) monitors waterways in flood-prone areas across the southeast of the country. By monitoring and measuring factors such as rainfall and groundwater, as well as observation across underwater flow sensors, experts can identify when flooding is likely to occur. But it can be tricky to obtain these readings accurately. As part of a broader solution, surveillance cameras were used to capture images which helped measure the water height and surface flow speed at certain areas in the SPC East Mediterranean waterways. This enabled officials to continuously monitor the area, ensuring that they were able to respond to any critical alerts quickly.

Using network cameras to help monitor and contain wildfires

Another natural disaster which can arise and spread quickly is a wildfire. Following periods of high temperatures, wildfires become a significant risk in certain parts of the world, such as Australia and the Western United States. The potential impact of these uncontrolled fires cannot be underestimated. According to reports, the 2020 wildfires in the US cost insurers between $7 billion to $13 billion in damage.

These fires threaten both wildlife and residents. They’re often difficult and dangerous for firefighters to contain, due to the scale of land affected. Fires may rage on for extended periods of time, outpacing efforts to control the spread. It’s also worth remembering that the effects aren’t confined to the immediate areas. Fires around cities can have a dangerous effect on the air quality for citizens. Understanding and pinpointing ignition sites and monitoring conflagrations and air quality can provide emergency teams with vital information, enabling them to make key decisions quickly.

This was certainly the case for ALERTWildfire, a monitoring organisation based in the US. Officials wanted to deploy high quality camera technology in forested areas to help firefighters and the public spot fire ignitions before they burst into full-fledged conflagrations. Working with Professional Telecommunications Services (PTS), network cameras were used as sensors to monitor for any flare ups in remote areas and provide location information so firefighters could address fire activity early. The cameras also allowed emergency services to monitor situations as they progressed, which helped to inform further decisions and provide updates to the affected communities and wider public.

Another inspiring story is the early wildfire detection for Big Tree Animal Sanctuary and Adoption Center in Hong Kong. The center is located in an area which is susceptible to wildfires, especially during the period of Ching Ming Festival and Chung Yeung Festival. Following a fire incident which fortunately did not result in loss of life, the center implemented a surveillance solution to help staff members monitor the premises remotely. In this way, early signs of fires could be detected and action taken to immediately evacuate animals and staff safely.

Using weather information to inform future planning

As we’ve seen with both flooding and wildfires, one of the most dangerous elements of extreme weather is how quickly it can arise, change and worsen. This is especially true for storms and tornadoes which can hit unsuspecting residents in at-risk urban areas, causing major structural damage and loss of life. The best way to mitigate this type of damage is to understand exactly how structures are affected and implement changes to help withstand the effects.

Yet information about how exactly this type of weather damages a building can be difficult to ascertain after an event, especially if the effects are severe. Rugged surveillance solutions placed in certain areas can provide footage of the events in real time, providing key insights into where structures are weak or need extra support. Using this data, town and city safety officials can better understand the measures needed and implement appropriate changes to better prepare for future incidents. At the same time, cameras can also help post incident issues, for example, monitoring the presence of curious onlookers, respect of safety restrictions, and in certain cases even deterring potential looters. In addition, the same system supports the progress and conclusion of the environmental remediation tasks.

Preparing for better future outcomes

Unfortunately, extreme weather will continue to be a fact of life, potentially intensifying with time. As a result, it’s critical for officials to be prepared to react quickly in real-time and plan for future events in high-risk areas. The aim is for these incidents to be contained or mitigated in the early stages, reducing the impact on life and property.

Surveillance technology plays a key role here in arming emergency services with the information they need to make critical life-preserving decisions. By installing network cameras in key places, insights gained can help mitigate the impact in the short and long term, leading to better outcomes.

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