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The New South Wales Government is testing technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile phone networks to help predict possible impacts of flooding.

The New South Wales State Emergency Service (SES) has partnered with researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and TPG Telecom to develop and test network sensing technology, which extracts localised weather information including rainfall, water levels and river flows using signals transmitted on the communications network.

Real-time weather information, combined with historical Bureau of Meteorology data and flood information, is used to produce a 4D visualisation made possible through the New South Wales Spatial Digital Twin (SDT) to demonstrate changes to the landscape and built environment.

The SDT allows for large amounts of data to be visualised in 3D and 4D models and to understand and analyse the data through detailed analytics.

AI could then be used to predict risks to infrastructure and communities, paving the way for the New South Wales SES to potentially use the data for the rapid dissemination of information to affected communities through targeted alerts.

While still in development, the government said the technology could be transformational for emergency services.

Currently, accurate real-time information can be challenging to obtain due to the number of flood sensors, sensor network coverage and network outages during weather events.

In addition to rainfall and water levels, real-time environmental data including wind and landslide information, can be combined with historical flood information to better predict the risk of floods and storms to communities.

Testing of the technology is underway along Sydney’s Parramatta and Georges Rivers, and will continue as the centrepiece project of UTS and TPG’s new Network Sensing Lab.

The Flood and Storm Intelligence Sensing project is funded through Transport for New South Wales’ Smart Places Acceleration Program, a special reservation of the Digital Restart Fund, administered by the New South Wales Department of Customer Service.

The project builds on cross-agency work on improving flood warnings, and the State Disaster Mitigation Plan which has flagged early warning systems as a priority for the New South Wales Government.

New South Wales Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, Jihad Dib, said, “Researching this technology is an opportunity to pioneer a new era of flood and storm intelligence.

“This work represents a significant step in the New South Wales Government’s efforts to combat risks to lives and properties during severe weather events.

“As we face increasingly severe weather influenced by climate change, we are supporting the New South Wales SES with technology that could help communities access important storm and flood information quicker.

“The new technology will improve data-driven decision-making for first responders, filling an information gap that could make an important difference in emergency situations.

“This work will build on our investment in early warning systems and work to ensure communities are better prepared before disasters strike,” Mr Dib said.

New South Wales SES Commissioner, Carlene York, said, “This innovative research project has the potential to make all the difference in protecting people’s homes and keeping people safe during major flood and storm events.

“Intelligence forms the basis for decision-making during emergency responses for the SES, so it is critical we have access to timely and accurate information.

“This technology could give the SES access to real-time flood and storm intelligence data, potentially changing the way we are able to respond to disasters.

“The real-time delivery of localised data from this new technology, and its capability to visualise the impacts of floods, could be applied to decisions relating to deployment of assets and personnel, warnings, evacuations, property protection, resupply and the provision of information and advice to community members.

“This is a really exciting partnership for the New South Wales SES, and I look forward to seeing how this groundbreaking research program unfolds,” Ms York said.

UTS Vice Chancellor, Andrew Parfitt, said, “This project is a manifestation of UTS’s mission to translate research into societal impacts, contributing to New South Wales and Australia’s economic sustainability, prosperity and community resilience.

“Thanks to New South Wales Government support, our world-leading wireless research team, led by Professor Jay Guo, can build on six years of research establishing the foundation for the flood and storm intelligence sensing system now in development.

“Network sensing can potentially transform the way our emergency personnel manage and mitigate flood and storm risks, but there are other applications for the technology that also will be explored in the new TPG-UTS Network Sensing Lab.

“This landmark partnership between UTS, TPG Telecom, New South Wales SES and the New South Wales Government has the potential to place New South Wales and Australia at the forefront of how new telecommunication technologies can help in addressing climate challenges and saving lives,” Mr Parfitt said. 

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