Network sensing project to enable real-time flood intelligence

Friday, 12 April, 2024

Network sensing project to enable real-time flood intelligence

The NSW Government is funding a breakthrough technology trial that could help protect communities during severe weather events, by harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and the mobile phone network to predict the possible impacts of flooding.

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. AI 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, as 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.

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

The NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, Jihad Dib, said researching this new technology provides the opportunity to pioneer a new era of flood and storm intelligence, which will be vital as we face increasingly severe weather influenced by climate change.

“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,” Dib said.

“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 said intelligence forms the basis for decision-making during emergency responses for the SES, so it is critical that the Service has 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,” York said.

“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.”

UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Parfitt said the project builds on six years of research from the university’s wireless research team, led by Distinguished Professor Jay Guo, 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,” he said. According to Guo, these include traffic management, object and intruder detection for smart transport, collision avoidance, search and rescue, and health and sports monitoring.

Parfitt concluded, “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.”

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