In a nation-leading trial that could help protect communities during severe weather events, the NSW government is testing technology that harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) and the mobile phone network to predict the possible impacts of flooding.

The NSW 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 is combined with historical Bureau of Meteorology data and flood information, with a 4D visualisation made possible through the NSW 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.

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

While still in development, 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 NSW’s Smart Places Acceleration Program, a special
reservation of the Digital Restart Fund, administered by the Department of Customer Service.

The project builds on cross-agency work on improving flood warnings, and the State Disaster Mitigation Plan which flags early warning systems as a priority for the NSW government.

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