The hours and days right after natural disasters occur are critical for the recovery of the area. Embedding sensors in infrastructure and buildings reduces the time and cost required to evaluate and report the damages while providing objective data to implement sound contingency plans.

Winter Storm Hercules – yet another unlucky event

“A brutal cold is spreading across the United States, with frigid temperatures and wind chills below zero across the United States”. You have probably read and listened to similar news lately about the first major winter storm in the U.S., called “Hercules”. It shook the Northeast with arctic cold, strong winds and heavy snow and reportedly causing sixteen deaths.

Often overseen or forgotten by the newspapers, the storm left behind damages that cities have to deal with to recover from disasters, such as cracked pipes due to frozen water or serious damages in homes, businesses and streets due to spurts.

Similar situations are experienced when different natural disasters occur: the first direct and brutal impact – the saddest and most dolorous part involving deaths – gives way to the reconstruction of the area.

Be careful of hidden damages

Even if the consequences of disasters are clearly visible in extreme situations, subtle damages are more difficult to detect. As such, these hard to detect damages pose a big threat to the proper recovery of the area and manual inspections are often carried out by special groups.

As an example, earthquakes can damage buildings and constructions. In locations where earthquakes are common, cities typically deploy brigades of civil servants to check buildings for structural damages that could turn out important problems. Click on the link to see an example of basic actions the newspaper recommended after an earthquake shook Oklahoma a couple of years ago or this other link to understand how a team works in California to evaluate and report post-earthquake damage in public school structures.

Natural disasters can be devastating

Technology, a helping hand

The Internet of Things is aimed at providing solutions for this kind of situations. By embedding sensors in critical infrastructures and buildings, the government can do a faster and better job after natural disasters occur. Taking objective data from sensors deployed in the field as their basis, they can easily implement contingency plans with priority areas and assets.

Among others, deformation sensors, humidity sensors and orientation sensors can provide the right data at the right time to help us to recover from such unfortunate occurrences.

The challenge – The Ant and The Grasshopper

As in most cases, the massive deployment of sensors poses the difficult decision of short term investment versus the long term advantages of having the sensors installed. We all know the data they provide is very important in critical situations such as the ones mentioned above but the initial cost of an implementation is huge due to the high volumes involved.

Luckily, the technology is continuously providing better solutions such as battery-free solutions that avoid the ongoing maintenance costs of changing batteries. This reduces the aversion to adopt these technologies and fosters the interest of governments and industry providers.

Sensors and wireless communications are currently being implemented in a Nesspreso coffee machine. We should be able to afford deploying them into our buildings for our own security any time soon, shouldn’t we?