In the decade following 2005, a total of 242 natural disasters occurred in the U.S. alone. These catastrophic forces of nature caused loss of life, human suffering and destruction of property on a massive scale, yet they represent only a fraction of the natural events that have affected people around the world during this same timeframe and since.
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While natural disasters are outside the control of humans, climate change notwithstanding, the internet of things is already being used to minimize the adversity resulting from natural occurrences, such as wildfires, severe weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and other geologic processes. Thankfully, we are now entering an era where scientists and experts, deploying the latest smart technology, can mitigate for and even prevent the death and destruction caused by these distressing events.
Even as much of natural disaster news coverage focuses on the actual events themselves and the immediate effects, technology companies around the world are working on technologies to help communities predict and better prepare for these destructive phenomena. Successful natural disaster preparedness, whether for flood, tornado or hurricane, is focused on creating a disaster recovery plan that reduces the hazards to people and property while also facilitating efficient rescue and recovery efforts.
Technology is making an impact
Technologies are emerging that make it possible to better know the potential risks and anticipate them before, during and after a catastrophic event. And while there is much debate around the future of technology to advance human development through social engineering, prevention is the best protection against a disaster and, for those in areas of where escape is not possible, very well may be the difference between surviving and not surviving.
LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology, which brings together low-power wide-area network sensors, wireless technology and sophisticated algorithms, is one example of technology being used in this area and it is already helping experts to better predict earthquakes and volcanoes. Across the spectrum of IoT technologies, there are teams applying devices and networks to mitigate impacts of future natural disasters and help deploy early warning systems. Disaster prediction is more than studying weather patterns, for example.
Effective prediction involves identifying hazard areas and potential triage zones on maps, facilitating communication through platforms, which don’t depend on cellular networks or landlines, and even synchronization of patient data and medical records to ensure proper care in the event of a natural disaster. Sensors and meters, propelled by LoRa technology, are being used to provide early warning systems for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Naturally, there are limitations to our ability to predict natural disasters, with network infrastructure and connectivity issues, financial constraints and communication remaining as some of the major hurdles yet to be overcome.
Unfortunately, many natural disasters also occur in underdeveloped regions of the world, where network deployments are not yet fully developed. Even in the U.S., a lapse in connectivity for a network that transmits data from weather reference points can prevent an early warning alarm being sent to alert the community. Communication is often overlooked as a limitation in this area. Effectively communicating risk and expressing the severity of an event can make all the difference in saving lives. An efficient, low-cost IoT network can ensure communications stay online.
Developing sensors with greater sensitivity and greater data capabilities and deploying them quickly and cost effectively, can also help with disaster prediction efforts. Creating IoT networks of weather base stations in the Caribbean, for instance, can serve as early warning systems for hurricanes and tropical storms. Consequently, the ability to analyze years of historical data on weather patterns and previous natural disasters can help identify timing and severity of future weather events and mobilize local authorities.
LoRa is helping save lives
LoRa technology is a long-range, low-power wireless chipset for use in all types of IoT applications. It uses end-to-end AES128 encryption, geolocation without GPS, and the relay of data via LoRaWAN networks. Used in sensors and end nodes for IoT applications to collect and relay data, it communicates bi-directionally using the LoRaWAN protocol.
A typical flow of data starts with the sensor or end node collecting information from its particular application. The data is then transmitted to the nearest LoRa-enabled gateway, which is connected to a LoRaWAN network, and then transmits the data to a cloud server. After transmitting the data, the information is sent to the end user via a mobile or desktop app.
LoRa-enabled devices have a range up to 30 miles with ongoing efforts to extend that upper limit. Devices running on LoRa have range benefits in dense urban areas in which other technologies cannot penetrate buildings at a certain depth. The devices record location, speed and direction, allowing for tracking of moving objects, such as rescue teams and equipment.
LoRa was designed with affordability and quick deployments in mind. It can cost a company as little as $20 per month to maintain network connectivity for a fleet of hundreds of vehicles. The per-unit cost is low and the low-bandwidth demand keeps the data costs low as well.
The LoRaWAN network protocol allows LoRa-enabled devices to communicate. The devices can gather the data, but if they can’t transmit that data then it’s of no use to the end user. LoRaWAN connects LoRa-based devices to a smartphone, tablet or desktop. The specifications for LoRaWAN, maintained by the LoRa Alliance, allow for global interoperability among LoRa sensors, gateways and end nodes. Standardization is crucial in the world of IoT, and LoRaWAN enables the adoption of Semtech’s LoRa technology on a global scale.
The future of natural disaster prediction
The recent introduction of the LoRa tag, a disposable, ultra-thin and low-cost tag that can be integrated into disposable systems or attached to assets to communicate the trigger of a specific event, portends crucial advances in the abilities of IoT for natural disaster preparedness and prediction. The LoRa tag is equipped with a printed battery and is designed to be integrated into products or systems that send messages to the cloud when a simple event is detected.
It is expected to enable the proliferation of completely new types of IoT applications, requiring real-time, reliable feedback, including logistics and shipping, healthcare and pharmaceutical applications, asset tracking applications, and general-purpose compliance applications.
Looking to the future, experts are coming up with ways of combining IoT and artificial intelligence in a bid to reduce and manage conditions of hazard, exposure and vulnerability, and prevent losses of life and property. For example, using robots, sensors or drones can help first responders and rescue victims quickly assess the situation, as well as the extent of the damage caused to come up with a suitable action plan to assist people, making rescue efforts less time-consuming, safer and properly coordinated.
Natural disaster preparedness is a continuous process, and natural hazards need not become catastrophes with the assistance of technology to support the general public and the government with protective measures.
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