Using crowdsourced data to help communities prevent disasters

2017-10-05

Each year, the International Day for Disaster Reduction is an opportunity to acknowledge how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to natural hazards and to raise awareness about ways to rein in the risks that they face. This year’s campaign focuses on reducing the number of people affected by disasters worldwide. Timely access to data is essential to improve both early planning and response, and thus shield communities from disaster. UNESCO is working with European partners on a new system to use social media, smartphones and wearables to improve emergency data management: I-REACT, Improving Resilience to Emergencies through Advanced Cyber Technologies.

Natural hazards affect millions of people every year worldwide. In 2016, 24.2 million people were forced to abandon their home due to the strike of a natural disaster. Moreover, in the last twenty years over 1.35 million died as a result of their vulnerability and exposure to natural hazards, and over 4 billion were displaced and left homeless, injured or in need of emergency assistance. With the ongoing rise in global temperatures due to climate change, the magnitude and occurrence of extreme weather events is more likely to grow. However, measures and actions can be implemented to mitigate the effects of these disasters.

Since 1989, the International Day for Disaster Reduction promotes a global culture of natural disaster risk reduction. This year, the theme is Home, Safe Home: Reducing Exposure, Reducing Displacement, in line with the second of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Its objective is to raise global awareness about effective actions, policies and practices that reduce the exposure to disaster risk at the community level. Science and technology play a vital role in saving homes and livelihoods and this is one of the main goals of the I-REACT project.

The I-REACT project is generating the most complete tool for the prevention and management of disasters. One of its key features is a mobile app that will provide citizens and communities with a higher situational awareness in disasters by allowing them to send/receive geolocalised real-time reports compounded with digital information like photos or videos of an emergency event to notify the responders and decision makers. In turn, emergency managers will be able to disseminate crucial data and indications, among emergency operators and citizens, to avoid disaster-affected areas or adopting mitigating measures suitable to reduce the impact of hazardous events.

The crowdsourced information provided by citizens, together with the information scrambled from social media, will be integrated into the stream of data that I-REACT will collect from European Emergency Management Systems like Copernicus and images from satellites and drones. This will constitute a system with detailed risk maps that will allow first responders and authorities to assess and constantly monitor the areas at risk. In addition to this,  information from the field may also be conveyed to civil protection agents and firefighters through smart glasses that will keep them updated while leaving their hands free.

Furthermore, I-REACT will not only be useful in the warning and response phases to a disaster. To lessen the number of people affected, careful prevention measures are foreseen. Thanks to the integrated use of simulated scenarios, seasonal & annual weather forecasts, historical data, and real-time information, I-REACT will be able to contribute to preventing or mitigating disaster, providing detailed risk maps throughout Europe for flood- and fire-related events. This will help decision-makers to take informed and acknowledged decisions for the preparedness of future disasters.

Reacting and preventing disasters is a collective effort, which everyone can contribute to. I-REACT will facilitate and promote the collaboration of all the actors involved in Disaster Risk Reduction, thus reducing the number of people affected. The collaborative project involves 20 European partners, led by the Istituto Superiore Mario Boella (ISMB) of Turin. UNESCO, through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe and the Geo-Hazards Risk Reduction unit based in HQs, is a strategic contributing partner.

By coordinating the international cooperation package of the I-REACT project, UNESCO works side by side with the civil protection departments of selected European member states. It builds cooperation with UN sister organizations and their programmes, designed in support of new international strategies for DRR and in response to the international humanitarian crisis. The objective is to enhance dissemination activities capacity, share achievements and look for possible synergies with the global communities of potential end-users, scientific and technological communities and, the private sector.