Water and fire: protecting people & assets from extreme weather

October 18, 2022
1-2 minutes

Climate is already changing, bringing more frequent and more intense weather-related events. In the last months, storms and heavy rains have brought succeeded wildfires in Europe. Violent hurricanes and typhoons have also hit the US, Cuba, Philippines and Japan (just to name a few).

The human and material cost of such events is huge: as per the latest estimates, Ian caused over 100 deaths, generated $63B of insured loss in Florida alone (around half due to wind damages and $6 to 15 billion to flood damages) and left millions of people with no electricity. In France back in October 2020, storm Alex and its torrential rains triggered massive flooding in the Alpes-Maritimes. 10 people lost their lives, 85 km of roads were damaged, 2 bridges were destroyed and the total cost was estimated at around €1 billion.

If water-related events can be damaging, so are wildfires.

Around Landiras and la Teste-de-Buch (Gironde), 21'000 hectares of forests were destroyed by a massive fire last July. It took 13 days for 1’450 firefighters to get it under control. Europe 1, a french radio, has evaluated the cost of the committed resources (firefighters, trucks, planes) at €6.6 million.

In all these events, people and assets have to be protected and human-made cities, constructions, infrastructures are not always adapted. Weather events can’t be prevented but people need to be protected and danger mitigated.

If prevention is not possible, anticipation becomes critical.

Early warnings to the population can give people enough time to protect their goods as much as possible, and potentially move out of the area at risk.

Floods hit Crete, the Greek island, mid-October. The Guardian quoted Dr Kostas Lagouvardos, a research director at the National Observatory of Athens “Some 150 mm of rain, the equivalent of four months’ rainfall in eastern Crete, fell in less than 12 hours. There should have been more preparedness and coordination across agencies.”

Emergency management teams can be put in high alert and preposition teams, vehicles and tools in order to be able to intervene as soon as possible.

“Having good knowledge of the quantity of water falling presents a real interest. It allows us to assess if it is a stationary storm, potentially very violent, and react in real time, moving resources and teams. The idea is to be close to the risk, to be able to protect people as quickly as possible” said Lieutenant-Colonel Philippe Chaussinand in the french newspaper La Provence.

Civil security actors, like firefighters, know how to deal with these situations and depending on the meteorological event announced, preparation can start early on.

However the duration and the intensity of the weather event impact what is put in place: the number of people involved, the quantity and type of material prepared.

The most accurate the weather forecast is, the better the preparation, the anticipation and the operational response will be.

Temperature, humidity, risk of thunderstorm and the level of precipitations are good indicators of the level of threat of fire in an area. If this level is too high, access can be prohibited to limit the number of people wandering and therefore the risk of accidentally starting a fire.

Similarly, a reliable weather forecast indicating precisely how much rain will fall in a specified area would be very valuable to anticipate, prepare resources and inform population.

In the southern part of France, to target the areas at risk, follow weather events evolution and adapt their preparation, emergency response teams can benefit from the information provided by HD Rain, the real-time weather data start-up. In partnership with the fire stations, HD Rain has installed and is managing a network of 1’000 sensors. The data each sensor provide is combined with a high performing algorithm to forecast weather minute by minute up to two hours in advance.

A valuable information to optimize the preparation of the emergency response teams and mitigate as much as possible the potential effect of extreme weather events.

Sources: Bloomberg, CoreLogic / CNN, Europe 1