Simulation technology on frontline of flood defences

Irish householders could soon get a virtual-reality view of the threat flood waters pose to their properties on a year-by-year basis.

Simulation technology on frontline of flood defences

Healthcare professionals, Civil Defence personnel, businesspeople, and flood victims were told of the resource at a unique think-tank organised by the International Red Cross aimed at reducing risks borne by natural disasters.

The workshop, which took place in Cork, is part of a six-city global exercise to develop new technology and reactions to the increased risks posed by weather-related disasters.

Senior members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent attended the meeting at the Kingsley Hotel on Saturday. The hotel itself was seriously damaged in a major flood in 2009 and only reopened a few weeks ago.

Attendees listened to the experiences of flood victims from all over Cork, including Irish Red Cross national secretary Barry O’Donovan, whose family business was nearly wiped out as a flood hit Bandon five years ago.

Abi Weaver, the charity’s director of global technology, said there was a considerable amount of emerging technology which could be harnessed to help people during severe weather situations and preparedness was a key factor in reducing risk.

Technology will soon allow imputing of weather patterns, rising sea levels, and flood incidents, which would be correlated and evaluated to predict water levels at certain locations in the years ahead.

Computers would then translate the information to show how many feet of water could end up outside a person’s house or business, providing them with advanced warning which could help them build appropriate flood defences.

Ms Weaver said destructive floods now occurred in Ireland roughly every eight years and it was important to prepare in advance for the next event.

Mr O’Donovan said his family’s 80-year-old electrical business has been flooded on eight occasions, the worst of which occurred in 2009.

“Hopefully the outcome of these meetings will provide us with more information which we use for recommendations and policies into the future which will help people,” he said.

However, he said that while technology is invaluable, some of the old methods could still be relied on.

Mr O’Donovan said that while people in Bandon now had an electronic early warning flood alert system, watching the way the ducks were acting in the river could provide an indication of a potential crisis.

Other flood victims, who came from Douglas, Clonakilty, and Glanmire, said their biggest problem is that insurance companies refused to renew flood cover.

They implored the Red Cross to use its considerable international standing to get the Government to set up a scheme whereby they would be covered.

John Roche, Irish Red Cross head of national and international services, said the organisation’s end game is to compile a report on new and emerging technologies, including solutions that are, or will be become, directly accessible to individuals to enhance their daily lives, particularly in times of crisis.

The International Red Cross has already developed new technology to help people facing crisis, including text messaging supports in ebola-ridden West Africa and a warning and advice service for people in south-east Asia, which was hit by the 2004 tsunami.

Last year in Ireland, the charity launched a smartphone app providing quick and easy tips for everyday first aid, along with step-by- step guides for how to prepare for emergencies.

It also uses the app to send out alerts to warn the public of imminent dangers, such as flooding and other severe weather.

Red Cross volunteers

Most people probably don’t realise what thousands of Irish Red Cross volunteers do for their communities during a crisis.

They are so finely tuned and well equipped that they can, and do, act with almost military precision when called upon — as was witnessed when freak weather events hit the country.

During the December 2009/January 2010 big freeze and again during the June 28, 2012 flooding they deployed significant manpower and resources to help people — much of which went under the radar.

They are equipped with ambulances and 4x4 all-weather vehicles, some of which are specially adapted and fitted with ‘snorkels’ which allow them to pass through the deepest of floods.

In times of crisis they have transported medical and nursing staff to hospitals, taken public health nurses to see vulnerable and elderly people in isolated, cut-off areas and taken kidney patients for dialysis.

They have also transported terminally ill people from hospices to die in their own homes during the most inclement weather and stepped in to take over meals-on-wheels runs.

In 2012 the Red Cross also set up an emergency flood appeal to which the public generously contributed.

It used the money to assist flood victims with their immediate financial problems and sent volunteers to personally check on the welfare of people living alone, whose houses had been deluged. Volunteers also provided first aid where needed.

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