Monday, December 16, 2013

Using balloons for flood warning

As highlighted in some previous posts about community flood warning in Nepal, it is challenging to get the attention of a community and give them actionable advice on what to do during a flood. 

Traditionally sound (e.g. from sirens) has been used for warning. However, urban sound pollution and the noise of heavy rain makes such sirens less effective. Malaysia just announced an innovative program for flood warning using balloons. 

Ahmad Phesal (second from right) with Ahmad Husaini (right) at Monday's balloon launch. (source)
KUALA LUMPUR: RESIDENTS of flood-prone Kampung Kasipillay and surrounding communities  can now act fast to take precautions, thanks to City Hall's Flood Warning Balloon.
The balloon is a project of Innovative and Creative Hybrid Group, City Hall and the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID).
The Flood Warning Balloon, which cost RM120,000 [roughly $12,000 USD], is the first in the world, and was invented to warn residents and road users in the event of a flash flood.
When a sensor detects that the water level of Sungai Batu has risen to a dangerous level, a siren will sound and the balloon will gradually rise to a height of 50 metres in the air. It will rise to 70 metres when the water reaches a critical level.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

News aggregators- Typhoon Haiyan on Global Flood News

The major story in the news this week is "Stormaggedon" Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines where one of the strongest Pacific Typhoons ever prompted the evacuation of hundreds of thousands and has affected millions. Some photo galleries are at Buzzfeed and the New York Times has some extended coverage. 

For an idea of the scope of the event media event though, the Global Flood News site links to over 56,000 items in the past 3 days, about 90% of which are from twitter. Their front page includes a map with counts of of recent news items related to floods. I've been watching this site for a few months and I can't remember any other stories breaking 10,000 items.    

It's possible to get information at sub-national scales, such as this zoom in to the affected region:

The website also allows you to subscribe to alerts for your area.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spiders in the trees

Following on the earlier story about rats in New York, there is also an example of a flood's effects on spiders in Pakistan. National Geographic has a photograph and here's the original caption:

"An unexpected side effect of the 2010 flooding in parts of Sindh, Pakistan, was that millions of spiders climbed up into the trees to escape the rising flood waters; because of the scale of the flooding and the fact that the water took so long to recede, many trees became cocooned in spiderwebs. People in the area had never seen this phenomenon before, but they also reported that there were fewer mosquitoes than they would have expected, given the amount of standing water that was left. Not being bitten by mosquitoes was one small blessing for people that had lost everything in the floods."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

FEWS in the news (Indonesia)

The most widely read post on this blog is a photo essay of one of the dirtiest spots on the dirtiest rivers in the world, the Citarum River upstream of Jakarta. I also interviewed a few of the people who live along the river and those who are involved with monitoring floods before they reach the city and managing the dams upstream

 A man collects garbage washed together by Jakarta’s massive January 2013 flood (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

At the time, two years ago, there was effectively no official quantitative flood forecasting system for Jakarta, which is incredible for a city of ten million people. That has recently changed.

In January a major flood inundated large parts of the city, including unprecedented flooding of the central business district. It put a new forecasting system to the test.

Original caption: A woman stands in her food stall in the flooded business area in Jakarta January 17, 2013. Heavy monsoonal rains triggered severe flooding in large swathes of the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Thursday, with many government offices and businesses forced to closed because staff could not get to work. Weather officials warned the rains could get worse over the next few days and media reports said that thousands of people in Jakarta and its satellite cities had been forced to leave their homes because of the torrential downpours this week. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

From a dutch water sector news site article: "The Flood Management Information System (FMIS) that had been installed by HKV Consultants and research institute Deltares late 2012 was put to the test. The system is operated by the DKI Jakarta Public Works and connected the city’s telemetry to a flood forecasting model. The flood information is disseminated to disaster organizations. The implementation of the FMIS-system is part of a World bank flood mitigation project. The first phase was completed in December 2012."

The article also includes photos of the disaster control room.
Most remarkably, it has a screen shot of the river forecasting software.

This is quite possibly the first time that I have ever seen a time series chart of river flows and forecasts in a news article. This is also the unmistakable interface of Deltares' Delft-FEWS (Flood Early Warning System) software used operationally in the US, UK and almost 20 other countries. 

Today is actually the last day of a two week workshop to finalize the specifications for delivering a Delft-FEWS system to the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia. For the interested, I asked a Deltares representative what hydrologic model was being used in Jakarta and he replied the Sacramento model, the same as is used at the US National Weather Service. 

Better monitoring and forecasting are part of a broader flood prevention program in Jakarta. It also includes large infrastructure projects such as canals but also "soft" solutions such as improved management of garbage

Of course, Google also got in the action launching its own crisis response website for the January floods. There are also various reports from relief agencies about impacts from the flood here here and here.

Already the system is being tested again with another series of floods this week. Already 16,000 people have been affected by the March flooding (compared with 250,000 in January) although the management options are more limited because the reservoirs are now fuller than they were in January.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rats! (Hurricane Sandy)

When a city floods, what happens to its rodents?

Tough as nails: New York City street rats

The AP asks "Did New York's rats relocate after Sandy?" Experts are of two minds. The city health department collects extensive surveys of rats and found that, although large storms can flush out rats, many also drown. In the end "the net effect of large storms is often a decrease in the rat population".

Some fear that the rats relocated into new territory and there has been a rise in calls to exterminators. According to a pest control expert "'They are adaptable. They can swim. They can move distances,' he said, citing radio telemetry studies showing that rats can move several miles if displaced by environmental conditions."

But this being New York, even the rats are resilient. "I have seen them dive over 70 feet (21 metres), swim 500 yards (450 metres), give me the finger and head for the hills," a rat hunting expert said, "Hurricane Sandy is not going to affect these critters."

The article mentions a serious blow to the rodent population, however- the loss of thousands of research mice in the basement of New York University's Langone Medical Center.

Original caption: In this Jan. 18, 2013 photo provided by the NYU Langone Medical Center, a researcher holds a laboratory mouse in a research building at the hospital's complex in New York. During Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, a storm surge flooded the basement housing some 7,000 cages of mice used for studying cancer, diabetes, brain development and other health issues. Each cage held up to five of the little rodents, and even four months later, nobody knows exactly how many perished. 

AP reports: "Now, about 50 scientists at the NYU Langone Medical Center are going through the slow process of replacing them. What they lost in a few minutes one terrible night in October will take more than a year to recover, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars."

Far from the gritty streets, these mice are kept in ultra-sterile labs and their lives are closely controlled. For some researchers it's a devastating setback. One scientist remarked about having to start over "The silver lining of the whole storm, what little there is, is the fact it allows me to refocus myself," he said. Now he can "go after what is interesting to me now, not what was interesting to me two years ago."

Monday, February 18, 2013

“I smell smoke.”

I stepped off the train at Southern Cross station in Melbourne and smelled smoke. I looked to my phone and opened EmergencyAUS (free). I started to submit a report. My options were:

“I can see”

“I can feel”

“I am”

“I can hear”

“I can smell”

I picked “smell”. I was then guided through another series of multiple choice options to describe my situation. Eventually I constructed:

“I can smell… smoke… at my current location… now.”

EmergencyAUS then showed me that a lot of other people in Melbourne smelled it too. By the looks of the map of everyone’s observations I was on the western edge of the plume; icons of noses were densest in the northern suburbs but there were reports extending straight down to the coast an hour away.


Noses in and around melbourne- other people who smelled the smoke (sorry for the terrible picture- my phone is my usual camera so this is a webcam of my phone) 

Some people didn’t just smell the smoke, they saw it. Craigieburn to the north had a cluster of icons of eyes: “I see… a plume of… smoke… at my current location… less than an hour ago…”

One of the eyes on Napier Street (3.4 km away) uploaded a photograph of a large plume of smoke that I could download. This made me realize that when I sat down at work this afternoon and looked out the window, I also saw the plume of smoke but didn’t know what I was looking at at the time.


Ordinary citizens aren’t the only ones on EmergencyAUS. The metropolitan fire brigade submitted its own blazing red icon on the map indicating “Non structure fire: going. Not yet under control- more resources requested” (upper right)

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) had its own white icon with “fire warning advice”. The advice described the situation, gave advice on what to do and included links to more information and where to get situation updates.

Earlier today EmergencyAUS pushed alerts to me that happened within 1 km of my home. For example, 6 minutes ago an alarm went off on Collins street. Earlier this weekend, I heard two sirens drive by and after checking my phone I knew where they were going. Bigger search areas are possible but the city is a busy place and I didn’t want warning fatigue.

EmergencyAUS is not just about fire. Citizens can report and learn about floods, earthquakes, tsunami and so on. They can report that they are being evacuated by the police, are without power or even are looking at a destroyed bridge (!). There is mutual community support: “I need…a generator…at my current location… now” through to “I know where to get… bottled water…”.

Who is doing this? EmergencyAUS says little about what is supporting it except to say it’s “Built by Gridstone and powered by Ripe Intelligence”. The application is free for use in one state. To subscribe to all states is $24.50, or $4.50 per state for a year.

Extra: there is another app called FireReady. While EmergencyAUS is all emergencies, FireReady focuses on bushfires and gives more detail. It too says that 30.79 km to the north 70 emergency vehicles have been attending to a large (1900 hectares) grass fire since yesterday. There are reports of wildfire on the roads and the app gives a list of what to do to stay safe. I first learned about FireReady driving by a billboard.