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[Korea and the fourth industrial revolution <21-1 Disaster Management>] Accuracy is the key to smarter disaster relief

Sept 11,2017
[ILLUSTRATED BY BAE MIN-HO]
Hurricane Harvey, which ripped through Houston at the end of August and beginning of September, is considered to be one of the worst natural disasters in the United States in recent memory.

Initially a category four hurricane that later became a tropical storm, it is believed to have left damages amounting to up to $180 billion, said Texas Governor Greg Abbott, while displacing 560,000 families, according to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Harvey is also believed to have claimed the lives of 60 people. On the hurricane scale, category five is the strongest, but a category four is none the less destructive. It can cause catastrophic damage to property, humans and animals with winds between 210 and 249.4 kilometers (130 and 155 miles) per hour. However, not only were the U.S. meteorologists able to accurately forecast the course that Harvey would take, they were able to predict the disaster, including the life-threatening flooding, five days in advance in order to give proper warning.

One of the companies that contributed to the early warning was AccuWeather, which, according to an NBC News report, used artificial intelligence to analyze global data in order to sharpen its prediction.

Additionally, the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting computer model has improved short-range projections, which were used to provide information on the severity of Harvey in advance.

The weather satellite GOES-16, which was launched last year and provided high-resolution images of the storm, has improved forecasts of the path that storms will take and the level of expected precipitation.

The same system was able to accurately track the course of the even bigger hurricane Irma as well as the magnitude of the damage it created.



In the public sector

The Korean Metrological Administration has also been pushing forward the implementation of so-called fourth industrial revolution technologies to improve the accuracy of weather forecasting.

“[The aim of new technology] is to provide accurate information that is based on scientific analysis amid the rapidly changing weather environment,” said an agency official, who requested anonymity adding that the main goal is to protect the safety of the public.

According to the Korean weather agency, the organization has been working on Korea’s own big data based weather forecast model that can be processed using a supercomputer. The project, which started in 2011, should be ready for practical use in 2019. The agency completed a test earlier this year.

The official said that the practical use of new technologies takes time to develop as a lot of research and data has to be compiled.

He said Korea’s weather conditions are more difficult to predict due to its unique geographical characteristics.

“Each country has its own unique environmental characteristics,” the official said. “Korea is unique in that all three sides are surrounded by the ocean while there’s China next to us and the east is higher than the west. Also, as the overall land mass is small, it responds more sensitively to even the slightest change.”

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said it is working on regulatory reforms and implementing policies that will allow different kinds of drones to be used in disaster relief and environmental research to provide better analysis.

“The application of drones is numerous,” said a ministry official, requesting anonymity. “Currently 90 percent of drone use is agricultural purposes or filming.”

However, the official said drones will play a significant role in disaster situations, especially when entering areas that rescue workers have trouble getting visuals of, like wildfires or high rises. The images obtained from the drones will allow responders to determine how best to approach the situation.



Changed awareness

Lee Hyun-sook, a researcher at the Convergence Research Policy Center, said public awareness on the potential dangers of a natural disaster was raised after the earthquake in Gyeongju on Sept. 12 last year. According to Lee, 1,168 earthquakes were recorded between 1978 and 2014 and of those only 43 were bigger than a 4 on the Richter scale. But the 5.8 magnitude that shook up Gyeongju last year, which is the strongest recorded as of today, exposed Korea’s vulnerability to natural disasters.

“Although there have been numerous natural disasters in the past, not only were there fewer than other countries [like Japan and China], but there have been less severe cases in recent years,” Lee said. “Most of the disasters were man-made tragedies.”

The earthquake also raised concerns over the possibility of damage to nuclear power plants, which are mostly concentrated in the southeastern region of the country, including six in Gyeongju.

The earthquake prompted the government to take a more aggressive position on preparing for natural disasters including speeding up the implementation of advanced technology for disaster prevention and public safety.

“There will always be a variable, which is how people will response to warnings provided by the predictions made with the latest technologies, but these technologies will undoubtedly help in vastly improving public safety,” Lee said.

JBT’s geographic information based disaster and crisis management system is displayed on a massive screen in Kangwon Land’s situation room. [JBT]
Emergency communications

The local private sector has been working on implementing technologies for disaster prevention and public safety.

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-kyu in April announced the development of a disaster and safety platform as one of its key future business projects.

KT has been working on PS-LTE (public safety LTE), a communication network that is used primarily for emergency situations. According to KT, PS-LTE uses a different frequency than the commercial LTE network. One of the key strengths of the network is that when making a call it doesn’t go through a base station.

“In the case of a natural disaster, base stations are usually knocked out [disabling communication networks],” said Jin Hyun-ho, a KT public relations official. “But PS-LTE connects device to device without having to pass through a base station.”

Furthermore, PS-LTE can communicate with a large number of people. This feature helps a command station to efficiently contact a large number of rescue workers without having to communicate or transmit data to each and every single person, as it is the case with commercial LTE.

“The purpose of PS-LTE is to create more secured and stable communications in the case of disaster,” Jin said. “Communication is important [in disaster situations].”

The system is currently being considered for implementation in other regions including the U.S., Europe and China.

Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics has been also working on PS-LTE development and tested a live video stream on the network in February this year. KT is also working on the development of LTE specially focusing on railroad services and those on the ocean.

The telecommunication company is working on a global positioning system (GPS) that can pinpoint location down to within 1 or 2 meters jointly with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

SK Telecom and Nokia in January this year demonstrated their new disaster communication system, Mission-Critical Push-To-Talk (MCPTT), at Nokia’s R&D center in Poland.

MCPTT provides stable and high-quality communication access for rescue workers as it uses the VoLTE network. This communication system does not get bogged down when a large number of people access it simultaneous.

Local start-up JBT, which was founded in 2005, recently installed its smart integrated control platform, JBMS-GeoBoard, at casino and ski resort Kangwon Land in March.

The company’s clients also include the Busan Metropolitan Government and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, which operates 24 nuclear plants.

According to the company the disaster prevention and management system uses big data applied to a geographic information system (GIS), or digital map, to allow the control room to assess and respond quickly to a crisis situation. The system is connected to various sensors including surveillance cameras and gives an alert if there are any irregularities.

For example, if a smoke detector is set off the camera automatically turns in that direction and an image pops up on the screen in the main control office to provide visuals on the situation.

Cornerstones Technology is an SME that specializes in an IoT embedded smart evacuation system. The system uses banks of LEDs with integrated sensors installed on the walls of trains and subways that automatically sense heat and smoke density as well as detecting the direction of the fire and the best escape route. The LEDs then light up to create arrows to direct people to evacuation points.

The IoT system has been installed on the Busan railway system since last November and other public and private companies including Lotte Department Store have also implemented the company’s system.

“In a study by GS E&C’s research center we found that our device can cut the time that people evacuate in a crisis system by 38 percent compared with existing evacuation lights,” said Yoon Seung-sik, chief strategy officer of Cornerstone. “In a crisis situation every second counts in determining whether you will survive or not.”

While the system took about six minutes to come up with optimal evacuation routes, Cornerstone said its’ program has been able to cut the calculation time down to 1 second.

The public safety global market is expected to grow exponentially, according to a June report by the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade (KIET). The report projected that the global public safety market is estimated to grow from $280.9 billion in 2013 to $537.6 billion by 2023. That’s an average 6.7 percent annual growth.

The market in China including services is expected to see a significant expansion in 10 years from $24.2 billion market in 2013 to $69.1 billion, while Korea’s market is expected to grow from $5.1 billion to $9.9 billion.

In big data and data analytics, the global market is expected to see faster growth at 17.5 percent between 2015 and 2022. According to Homeland Security Research Corp. (HSRC) based in Washington D.C., the big data and data analysis global market will be used in various disaster and security crises and will reach about $11 billion.

Moving forward

“In terms of infrastructure, Korea is one of the world’s best and we have advanced technologies,” said Han Dong-soo, a professor at KAIST. “The problem is applying that technology in a practical way.”

He said technology development is just the entry point in solving problems such as disasters and safety prevention.

“Just from the technology stand point, we’ve reached a certain level but we are at the stage of practical application,” Han said. He said the government has to be more aggressive to apply these technologies for practical uses.

In 2010 the professor developed a mobile location tracking system that can find a person indoors, including which floor that they are on. This technology was developed to help people respond quickly to time-limited crises like a kidnapping or if people suddenly have a serious health problem like a heart attack.

“The most important factor in saving lives, whether it is disaster or a crime, is time,” Han said. “Today’s technology really helps reduce the time it would take and increase the chances of survival.”

New technology can also help reduce costs.

It was estimated by the Ministry of Interior and Safety that a natural disaster costs, on average, 5.4 trillion won ($4.77 billion) in damages and 10.8 trillion won in recovery expenses.

The World Bank in a study estimated that global natural disasters have cost $520 billion while forcing 26 million people into poverty.

Oh Jai-ho, professor of environmental atmospheric sciences at Pukyong University, said in disaster prevention and management, the most important factor is accuracy. In order to improve that, Oh says that a better understanding of the cause of a disaster is necessary.

This is where artificial intelligence and big data analysis contributes significantly.

“In the past, we only assumed the reasons behind why disasters happened but really didn’t have specific data that gave detailed information for a better understanding,” Oh said. “But today we have technology that can analyze the root of the disasters.”

“Without the past the computer cannot see the future,” professor Oh said. “It needs to learn. From that, it can then increase the accuracies of projections to the very last details, which us humans can miss.”

The professor and his research team at the university in June introduced AlphaMet, a weather forecast system that runs on artificial intelligence. Sorting and reorganizing the data is the first step towards maximizing the use of fourth industrial revolution technologies like artificial intelligence and big data analysis, said Sungkyunkwan University professor Yoon Hong-sik.

Yoon has already used big data to create a safety map for his school that not only provides information on toxic or hazardous substances and materials around the school but detailed information such as the amount. The map also provides evacuation routes.

“The government has a massive amount of data but currently everything is disorganized and disconnected, which makes it impractical,” said Yoon “No matter how advanced technologies are with artificial intelligence and big data, you can’t use those with simple data.”

Professor Oh of Pyukong University said the practical use of these technologies including quantum computing technology will take some time before they are actually used.

“Major markets like the U.S. and Europe are ahead of us and China is rapidly following,” Oh said. “But nobody dominates the market, which means the market is still open for anyone.”

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]




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