Lessons from Songdo for post-earthquake Nepal?

Posted on May 17, 2015  /  0 Comments

I had to read this op-ed that ran in a Nepal newspaper several times. The author, a former advisor to the former President of South Korea, believes that an application that picks up on fluctuations in Internet traffic to give people advance warning of 30 seconds to two minutes has relevance to post-quake Nepal. I was just wondering how the warning would be transmitted in a country where Internet access is not ubiquitous (according to latest ITU data Nepal had 13.3 Internet users per 100 people); and what one can actually do with 30 seconds to two minutes warning even if one had a computer, it was connected to the Internet and one was at the machine. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on ensuring buildings are built to code?

Songdo, a South Korean city built from scratch with smart technology in mind, is leading the way to become a blueprint for a city of the future. Every inch of the city is wired with fibre optic and wireless broadband. The broadband network connects people and also sends a constant stream of data to computers to allow the city to monitor itself and adjust its operation accordingly. Closer to home, India’s Union Cabinet recently approved a ‘Smart City’ project with a mission of establishing 100 smart cities in the country.

Internet-enabled disaster alerts

Yes, it is impossible to predict earthquakes, but this should not stop us from investing in high tech smart city internet-enabled solutions capable of alerting citizens as soon as tremblors are detected, before land and buildings shake. These types of early warning systems come with a high price tag and have only been deployed in cities in Mexico, Japan, and the United States.

One innovative solution from Europe that is in its nascent stage listens to internet traffic to spot an earthquake in 30 seconds to two minutes after it happens and automatically alerts people in the area. Similarly, an Israeli firm has developed a solution that uses a geo-targeted system that allows officials to push mass alerts simultaneously to computers, mobile phones, radios, and televisions. This technology can play a critical role in post-disaster situations where the government’s ability to communicate is usually crippled, as everyone is trying to connect to their loved ones using landlines and mobile phones.


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