The first app to empower citizens against floods, wildfires and extreme weather events

Submitted by Juan José Sáenz... 5th November 2018 8:47
Motion graphics explaining the I-REACT mobile app
Sending a report using the mobile app

Introduction

Climate change is making floods, wildfires and other extreme weather events more frequent and intense. In 2017 alone -  the second-costliest year in disasters on record - climate and natural disasters like floods, wildfires and earthquakes killed more than 9000 people worldwide, affected 96 million, and caused €270 billion in losses.

Citizens are one of the key players in an emergency. To empower them against disasters, the European project I-REACT has developed the first European mobile app that enables its users to share pictures and other information on natural hazards in real time, and to access data about potential risks in their area, amongst other functionalities.

The users of the app can actively monitor environmental conditions and share geolocalised photos and other data that will help other citizens be prepared. These reports can be verified and rated by the rest of the users, to filter relevant information and avoid the propagation of fake news. Real-time information from Twitter is also filtered: the app extracts in real time relevant tweets to offer only informative content related to emergency events happening in their surroundings, and these can also be rated by the app users. This community-moderated approach is necessary to avoid the spread of false information.

On the other hand, to let people know at every moment the likelihood of being affected by extreme weather events, flood and fires, the app displays European-wide risk maps. In addition, to foster self-protection behaviours, the app integrates tips and quizzes on how to prevent, prepare and respond to floods, wildfires and other natural hazards.

Altogether, the app serves as a tool to build a sense of community around disaster risk reduction, and to encourage a resilience culture among citizens.  The app is freely available on Google Play:          I-REACT.

I-REACT: more than an app

For the last two years, the European project I-REACT has been developing technological tools to prevent and respond better against natural hazards. The technologies and solutions developed by the project are aimed at the three main actors in disaster management: emergency responders, decision makers and citizens.

To help emergency responders to better detect upcoming hazards, I-REACT integrates data coming from multiple sources: European-wide systems to evaluate fire, flood and extreme weather risk, satellite imaging provided by the European Copernicus Emergency Management service, real-time crowdsourced information from Twitter and historical data, amongst others. All of this is paired with weather forecast systems in Europe and fed into the I-REACTOR: a Big Data processing system that gathers and analyses all this information to show updated risk maps on different natural hazards. Thanks to this curated information, emergency managers can have a high-level assessment of the situation, and be able to issue early warning alerts more in advance. In addition, I-REACT has developed advanced tools to respond to ongoing emergencies. The mobile app offers extensive functionalities mentioned above as well as serving as a communication channel with the control room. Also, it is coupled to a wearable device to better control positioning and safety, and can be used in combination with augmented reality glasses that allow first-responders to receive and send information without using their hands. Overall, the technology is highly modular and each module can be adopted by emergency services and integrated into already existing services.

Finally, authorities will be able to take better decisions thanks to the Decision Support System developed by the project: a system that takes into account the information offered by the I-REACTOR and can be paired with the current protocols, that vary depending on the location.

To help citizens in the face of disasters, the project has developed the mobile app explained earlier in this article. All these technologies have been developed and are currently being tested through several in-field demonstrations in zones at risk that will take place throughout Europe from now until the end of the project in June 2019.

Further resources

  • I-REACT is an innovation project funded by the European Commission. The project uses social media, smartphones and wearables to improve disaster management.  It is coordinated by the Istituto Superiore Mario Boella of Turin, and implemented in Italy by various partners including our society CELI, Politecnico di Torino, CSI Piemonte, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, ARPA Piemonte and Civic Protection Department.