How to Use IoT to Protect Our Homes and Cities from Climate Change

Cities are finding new ways to mitigate damage from natural disasters using IoT-driven technologies. You can use IoT devices as well to make your home a safer and more resilient place. Let’s take a closer look at how IoT is being used in flood and fire response efforts during natural disasters to help prevent a worst-case scenario.

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Image of the Painted Ladies homes in San Francisco under an illustration of a giant wave
Illustration: © IoT For All

The past decade has had a marked increase in natural disasters. Extreme weather events, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and slow-onset disasters like droughts and polar vortexes have left many American homes in peril. Alabama’s recent tornado outbreak and 2018’s record-setting wildfires in California are quickly becoming the new normal.

Can our homes outsmart the next natural disaster? Many cities and homeowners are betting on it. Cities are finding new ways to mitigate the damage from these inevitable events using IoT-driven technologies. You can use IoT devices to make your home a safer and more resilient place as well. Let’s look at how cities and homes can leverage IoT for a safer future.

Smart Grids

Electricity is essential to modern life, and it’s often the first thing to go in a natural disaster. More than a quarter-million people lost electricity during Hurricane Harvey, and when areas are flooded, repairs can take months.

Smart grids use IoT to manage grid infrastructure dynamically, using a demand- rather than a supply-based model. Smart grids make extensive use of equipment and system monitoring as well. As a result of using these technologies, smart grids can recover more quickly after storm events. They can automatically reroute power to prevent the typical cascade of outages. Smart grids can also bring emergency services online first during a disaster, making cities more resilient.

IoT technologies may also help in these energy crises by making homes across the globe a lot more efficient. Automating everyday power-consumers like lightbulbs, fans, and AC systems cuts down on unnecessary use, which conserves energy. Additionally, IoT devices can be automated to perform tasks during off-peak hours.

Emergency-Response Data

In a disaster like an extreme storm, a city’s response is often hindered by poor communication, obstructed roads, and a lack of electricity. These holdups can make the distribution of critical resources almost impossible to manage. IoT devices promise to meet some of these challenges by providing real-time data and information to emergency crews.

Residential smart home devices are easily networked together. IoT devices can be programmed to provide almost any type of data; seismic activity, temperature, structure failures, and many other types of information can all be detected and reported in real time by these sensors.

Digital assistants like Alexa can keep you updated on weather and emergency information when disaster looms. Plus, upcoming changes to cellular networks—like the emerging 5G—mean that soon your IoT devices can stay connected to emergency networks even when your WiFi goes out in a storm.

Flood Sensors

Residences and businesses alike harness web-connected devices for mitigating flood damage. Flood sensors that send a wireless signal when triggered can improve response times dramatically. With a leak sensor, you’ll have a chance to get ahead of flooding before it causes significant damage.

At the residential level, the decreasing cost of flood sensors coupled with the ubiquity of smart hubs and smart thermostats have made these sensors a standard part of most newer home security systems. The early warning provided by a leak sensor is invaluable for homeowners who are away from their property during a major storm.

In Northern England, residential flood sensors with web connections are being networked to provide an even faster town-wide flood response. Residents of the upper Calder Valley region are utilizing a low-power, wide-area IoT network (LoRa or LoRaWAN) to sync up the flood sensors from hundreds of homes. This data creates a local flood map with live updates from all homes on the network, which aids emergency response teams and homeowners alike when flooding occurs.

The Future of IoT

For cities and homeowners alike, the future of IoT may lie in artificial intelligence. Automated responses to climate-related disasters are a promising frontier for IoT technology, and AI, experimental as it is, can already be implemented in disaster-related contexts across the US.

In Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Mateo County, the “One Concern” AI platform is helping city planners model the potential damage from disasters with surprising precision. These models help decision-makers plan effective emergency preparedness strategies and infrastructure choices to avoid the worst damages.

IoT devices can be used to provide incredibly useful real-time data about floods, fires, and other disasters, but the torrent of information is nearly impossible to analyze without AI. An AI algorithm can turn the raw data into actionable information—the two technologies are almost sure to develop in tandem as climate change events worsen.

IoT for a Changing World

IoT devices networked over a town, city, or regional scale could provide major benefits in a disaster. For homeowners, the benefits of IoT devices for flood and fire response can help prevent a worst-case scenario. As climate change continues to stress our response measures, it’s comforting to know that technologies like the IoT are keeping pace with the challenge.