How Big Data Can Help Flood Responses in India

Published Feb-27-19

Using big data and artificial intelligence to improve flood prediction in India and issue warnings.

Google/Central Water Commission, India

The Story:

How Big Data Can Help Flood Responses in India Forecasting the weather is a challenging exercise and not always accurate, given the chaotic and unpredictable nature of weather patterns, the sheer volume of variables and the complex interactions between them. However, thanks to big data, artificial intelligence, the lightning speeds with which computers can crunch numbers and the proliferation of sensors and satellites it is possible to forecast changing weather patterns much more accurately.

Beyond knowing whether or not it is going to be nice on the weekend, more accurate forecasts can bring significant benefits to government agencies, businesses and farmers. They can also save lives when an area is faced with natural disasters.

Unfortunately, there is no way of stopping them from striking but mining and analyzing weather data can help to predict disaster paths, optimize preparation and mitigate their impact. One place where this is happening is in India.

AI-Enabled Flood Forecasting

The country accounts for one-fifth of global deaths due to floods, according to data provided by the Indian government. Between 1953 and 2017 more than 100,000 people died because of heavy rains and floods across the country. There was also a heavy financial burden with damage to houses, crops and public utilities costing as much as three percent of India's GDP.

To help improve awareness of impending floods in India Google partnered with the Central Water Commission of India to launch an AI-assisted flood predictions service. It is part of the internet giant's Google Public Alerts program, a global platform for disseminating emergency messages.

This big data initiative started in Patna in northwest India and it makes predictions using a combination of machine learning, rainfall records and flood simulations of which it can run up to hundreds of thousands at a particular location.

“A variety of elements — from historical events to river level readings, to the terrain and elevation of a specific area — feed into our models,” wrote Google’s engineering VP Yossi Matias in a blog post about AI-enabled flood forecasting.

“With this information, we’ve created river flood forecasting models that can more accurately predict not only when and where a flood might occur, but the severity of the event as well.”

When a flood event is likely Google issues alerts which are layered into some of its apps such as Google Search, Google Maps and Google Now. The alerts are presented in a clearly structured format that is easy to read and includes such information as the location, timing, and severity of a possible flood event.

Avoiding Disaster

A storm is inevitable, but disaster doesn’t have to be. Technology, big data analytics and artificial intelligence can help governments, organizations and individuals improve preparations, accelerate relief response times and boost aid efforts.

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