Empowering urgent decision making in natural disasters

30 September 2022

When people find themselves in the middle of a natural disaster event, quick decision making using the best available information is crucial. University of Canterbury (UC) researchers are developing technology that could fast-track information processing in a flood situation, predict scenarios and improve official responses as major natural events take place.

  • Matthew Wilson

    Director of the Geospatial Research Institute Toi Hangarau at the University of Canterbury, Professor Matthew Wilson is leading research to develop technology that will improve official responses as major natural events take place.

SDG 11

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Director of the Geospatial Research Institute Toi Hangarau at UC Professor Matthew Wilson is leading research that will enable complex questions to be answered efficiently and quickly in the event of a flood, such as the location that is most at risk or identifying whether civilians should be evacuated, thanks to revolutionary real-time analytical capabilities embedded in the background of digital twin technology.

Digital twin technology provides a digital representation of a building, city, or region, and enables the integration and analysis of data from multiple sources in real-time. This can help researchers to determine the significance of measured or forecast rainfall on a region, or the mapping of areas likely to be impacted by flooding.

Professor Wilson is working with Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand, FrontierSI, the Building Innovation Partnership and NIWA on the implementation of a “digital twin for flood resilience” and hopes to enable real-time access to data and analysis for better hazard management.

He says the problem now is that the vast amount of data produced makes it an enormous task to process it all in a timely way, if left to individuals or small teams to try and pull it together to make quick decisions.

“What we’re doing is distilling the deep lake of data we have, to extract the value of it in an automated way. By doing that we can help to solve problems that can be otherwise very challenging,” he says.

“Usually, decision makers will be acting based on information obtained from observations of the event. This system aims to provide predictive information ahead of time, which can allow them to respond quickly and proactively,” Professor Wilson says.

One example of a challenge during emergency response is that civilians in danger can be hesitant to leave their home for whatever reason, including a lack of understanding about the level of risk to their safety.

Professor Wilson says, “this technology will help the general population to visualise how they can be in danger if they remain in a place that’s of high risk.

“For example, if you think about it in the context of flooding, usually there will only be relatively few scenarios run within a computer model of flood inundation, which doesn’t give much nuance into the risk problem. If we can automate the workflow then hundreds or even thousands of scenarios become possible, giving decision makers much more detailed information.”

Professor Wilson is also contributing to Rongowai, a project led by Professor Delwyn Moller from Auckland University, that aims to build a detailed picture of the complex patterns of water in the environment.

Professor Wilson says, “In an exceptional partnership with NASA and Air New Zealand, we have installed a next-generation sensor on an Air New Zealand Q300 aircraft, which will give us significantly improved observations of soil moisture, flooding and wetlands. During each flight the sensors on-board the aircraft will record direct and reflected signals from up to 20 GNSS satellites simultaneously, signals which are usually used for navigation applications.”

Read further stories on how UC researchers are contributing to the resilience of our cities and communities.

Media contact:

  • Email: media@canterbury.ac.nz Ph: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168
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