The ultimate platform to handle extreme weather events

During natural disasters, response teams need all the help they can get. The line between success and failure is often paper-thin and innovative IT solutions can make a big difference. Through beAWARE, an EU-funded project, stakeholders have access to a platform integrating high-end technologies and an entirely new approach to disaster management that will ultimately help keep citizens safe.

Europe, just like the rest of the world, has a major challenge on its hands. The number of natural disasters is rising as a direct consequence of climate change, and they’re getting more devastating too. Could now be the time for stakeholders to take stock of all potentially helpful new ideas and technologies?

Launched in 2017, the EU-funded beAWARE project has laid the groundwork for novel strategies and tools. It can help handle all phases of disaster management, and it uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse available data from various input sources in order to enhance situational awareness in case of extreme weather events.

“The beAWARE innovation is an integrated platform using high-end technologies and machine learning capabilities. The platform gets information from text messages, social media and voice calls. It processes weather and other multimodal data and can generate early warnings and real-time alerts. But that’s not all. It uses deep learning techniques to detect crisis events in visual content; automatic drone routing and piloting to receive valuable information from aerial imagery; case-based reasoning and decision support algorithms for crisis management; as well as automatic generation of multilingual reports to transform all the above into linguistic information for the authorities,” says Ioannis Kompatsiaris, senior researcher at the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH) and coordinator of beAWARE.

One tool, multiple applications

The beAWARE platform is much more than a crisis management platform to help authorities, first responders and citizens. According to Stefanos Vrochidis, deputy coordinator of the project and senior researcher at CERTH, it should rather be seen as a combination of relevant state-of-the-art technologies spread across different components and applications. It encompasses a protection and rescue service, it can be used for risk assessment (including scenario building), and it supports the core functions of call centres (public safety answering point or PSAP).

“Our platform essentially provides a situational picture in real time,” Anastasios Karakostas, deputy coordinator and technical manager of the project, Senior Researcher at CERTH, explains. “It tells users what happened, where, when, how and why, and it provides very short-term forecasts up to 1-3 hours along with so-called ‘now casting’. This enables appropriate decision-making as well as early warnings and alerts from authorities (PSAP) to citizens (early warning APP).”

Following several pilot demonstrations leading to positive reviews from the community and potential clients, the consortium has set up a final pilot demonstration in Valencia that will be used as a basis for a permanent demonstration environment. It will be directly managed by CERTH spin-off INFALIA. “The set-up of the permanent demo has been discussed and will be settled after the end of the COVID-19 emergency,” Kompatsiaris adds. Several organisations have already signed up to use components of the beAWARE system, including Italy’s Autorità di Bacino Distrettuale delle AlpiOrientali (AAWA).

Completed at the end of 2019, beAWARE promises to enhance many aspects of natural disaster management. It successfully improved early warning systems for floods and storms, the quality and speed of information sharing, cooperation between stakeholders, and training and exercise programmes. Thanks to continued promotion by INFALIA, the project is poised to leave its mark on crisis management practices over the coming years.