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New South Wales, Australia, uses AI to predict flood risks

  • New South Wales, Australia, uses AI to predict flood risks

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Australia’s southeastern state New South Wales unveiled it is testing technology that harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) and the mobile phone network to predict the possible impacts of flooding, which aims to protect communities during severe weather events.

According to a recent press release by NSW Government, the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) has partnered with researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and TPG Telecom to develop and test network sensing technology, which extracts localised weather information including rainfall, water levels and river flows using signals transmitted on the communications network.

Real-time weather information is combined with historical Bureau of Meteorology data and flood information, with a 4D visualisation made possible through the NSW Spatial Digital Twin (SDT) to demonstrate changes to the landscape and built environment.

The SDT allows for large amounts of data to be visualised in 3D and 4D models and to understand and analyse the data through detailed analytics.

Artificial intelligence could then be used to predict risks to infrastructure and communities, paving the way for the NSW SES to potentially use the data for the rapid dissemination of information to affected communities through targeted alerts.

While still in development, the technology could be transformational for emergency services.

Currently, accurate real-time information can be challenging to obtain due to the number of flood sensors, sensor network coverage and network outages during weather events.

In addition to rainfall and water levels, real-time environmental data including wind and landslide information, can be combined with historical flood information to better predict the risk of floods and storms to communities.

Testing of the technology is underway along Sydney’s Parramatta and Georges Rivers and will continue as the centrepiece project of UTS and TPG’s new Network Sensing Lab.

The Flood and Storm Intelligence Sensing project is funded through Transport for NSW’s Smart Places Acceleration Program, a special reservation of the Digital Restart Fund, administered by the Department of Customer Service.

The project builds on cross-agency work on improving flood warnings, and the State Disaster Mitigation Plan which flags early warning systems as a priority for the NSW Government.

Currently, accurate real-time information can be challenging to obtain due to the number of flood sensors, sensor network coverage and network outages during weather events

Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Jihad Dib said: “Researching this technology is an opportunity to pioneer a new era of flood and storm intelligence.

"This work represents a significant step in the NSW Government’s efforts to combat risks to lives and properties during severe weather events.

“As we face increasingly severe weather influenced by climate change, we are supporting the NSW State Emergency Service with technology that could help communities access important storm and flood information quicker.

“The new technology will improve data-driven decision-making for first responders, filling an information gap that could make an important difference in emergency situations.

“This work will build on our investment in early warning systems and work to ensure communities are better prepared before disasters strike.”

NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York APM said: “This innovative research project has the potential to make all the difference in protecting people’s homes and keeping people safe during major flood and storm events.

“Intelligence forms the basis for decision-making during emergency responses for the SES, so it is critical we have access to timely and accurate information.

“This technology could give the SES access to real-time flood and storm intelligence data, potentially changing the way we are able to respond to disasters.

“The real-time delivery of localised data from this new technology, and its capability to visualise the impacts of floods, could be applied to decisions relating to deployment of assets and personnel, warnings, evacuations, property protection, resupply and the provision of information and advice to community members.

“This is a really exciting partnership for the NSW State Emergency Service, and I look forward to seeing how this groundbreaking research program unfolds."

University of Technology Sydney Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Parfitt said: “This project is a manifestation of UTS’s mission to translate research into societal impacts, contributing to NSW and Australia’s economic sustainability, prosperity and community resilience.

“Thanks to NSW Government support, our world-leading wireless research team, led by Distinguished Professor Jay Guo, can build on 6 years of research establishing the foundation for the flood and storm intelligence sensing system now in development.

“Network sensing can potentially transform the way our emergency personnel manage and mitigate flood and storm risks, but there are other applications for the technology that also will be explored in the new TPG-UTS Network Sensing Lab.

“This landmark partnership between UTS, TPG Telecom, NSW SES and the NSW Government has the potential to place NSW and Australia at the forefront of how new telecommunication technologies can help in addressing climate challenges and saving lives.” 

Australian rivers in New South Wales have experienced devastating floods, with excessive flows primarily originating within the state, and to a lesser extent, from Queensland and Victoria. These inundations pose significant threats to local communities and the overall regional economy, underscoring the profound impact of such natural disasters.

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