Satellite Images Mitigate Flood Impacts

Satellite images have been recognized as effective tools in helping flood mitigation programs. A New York based satellite flood tracking company ‘Cloud to Street’ was formed by two Yale classmates. Their real life experience in observing the suffering of climate vulnerable communities inspired them to form this New York based company whose solutions have been adopted by the United Nations as well as several government programs.

“Floods are one of the most destructive natural disasters and the most costly natural disasters – causing USD 80 Billion in economic losses in 2021 alone. However the data around them is least accessible as well as least utilized of all disaster types. The behavior of floods is also rapidly changing as a result of rising sea levels and climate change-induced atmospheric alterations” says Cloud to Street CEO Bessie Schwarz in an exclusive interview with Geospatial World where she shares more on her company’s satellite flood tracking initiatives.

Floods have great social and economic impacts. How does the ‘Cloud to Street’ platform have a mitigating influence on such impacts in areas affected by floods?

Floods are one of the most destructive and costly natural disasters – causing USD 80 billion in economic losses in 2021 alone. However the data around them is least accessible as well as least utilized of all disaster types. The behavior of floods is also rapidly changing as a result of rising sea levels and climate change induced atmospheric alterations.

Flood data is most consequential for three use cases, the first being risk evaluation, the second being early detection and tracking, and the third being insurance. Cloud to Street provides critical data for all three use cases. Analyzing the flood risk of a location, not just as compared to what happened historically, but forecasting how climate change might alter flooding events in the future prevents loss of life and property. Near real-time flood tracking allows decision makers to deploy assets and aid to areas that need it the most. Finally, data from Cloud to Street’s flood tracking platform allows insurance companies to quickly schedule payouts to those affected by flooding events.

All three of these use cases fall under the umbrella of climate change adaptation. While the climate tech sector is developing solutions that will curb the effects of climate change, many of the effects will not be able to be reversed. So it is important to innovate and create solutions towards adapting to these permanent changes.

It would be interesting to know of some ground level flood management decisions and implementations using Cloud to Street’s 35-year flood risk data?

A great example of Cloud to Street’s data being used to make critical decisions during an emergency can be found in the Republic of Congo, where the company has been working with the World Food Program (WFP) to implement a flood monitoring system. In 2018, WFP and the broader UN network worried about a new group of 11,000 refugees that arrived in the flood prone village of Makotipoko. We have provided historical risk maps that predicted that area was at high risk of flooding. With these maps, the Ministry of Social Affairs supported the relocation of 7,000 at-risk refugees.

No less than ten months later, the very same site was majorly inundated in a country-wide disaster, the worst the country had seen in decades. WFP needed fast and accurate data to prove how affected the area was, and which populations were most directly hit. Our high resolution satellites data, enabled WFP Congo to secure USD 12.5 Million in emergency funding for the relief effort.

We understand your Flood Intelligence Platform incorporates the solution to provide the capability to price and trigger parametric flood policies using index values. This is an area with far reaching economic advantages. Could you please elaborate on this aspect?

Parametric flood insurance differs significantly from conventional indemnity flood insurance. Programs like the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in the US require vast amounts of data to be workable. This kind of data is simply unavailable in large parts of the world. Adjusting claims can be costly and difficult in many areas of the developing world, as the infrastructure assessments can be inadequate many times. It can take days or weeks for an adjuster to go to the affected places.

Parametric flood insurance policies do not need claims adjusters to function, they just need to know if the right index was triggered. Parametric flood insurance is a viable product in areas where conventional indemnity flood insurance would be difficult, if not impossible to implement. This creates an opportunity for closing the global insurance coverage gap, and to provide insurance to millions of people who are currently uninsurable.

Accurate predictions and weather forecasts are vital to ensure maximum protection coverage. How does Cloud to Street lend its expertise in this realm?

While Cloud to Street does not provide weather forecasting, our predictive analysis allows for a better understanding of how climate change will affect flood patterns. Cloud to Street combines historical data, satellite imagery, and machine learning to provide accurate measurements and forecasts of flooding. We forecast the intensity and extent of future floods and provide near-real-time measurements of floods while they’re happening.

Cloud to Street provides ground level insights on the impact of flooding within 72 hours of an event. Please can you share any of your recent experiences in challenges as well as success in having shared such insights?

In 2021, WFP Sudan needed to identify priority areas to distribute aid to affected populations at a national level. We provided them with nationwide flood monitoring for six months with weekly updates, and high resolution flexible emergency event maps into critical infrastructure and populations. In August of that year, a major flood in Al Fao affected approximately 20,000 people. Within 24 hours, we delivered high-resolution flood extents and impact statistics to our partners at the UN. Following the incident, an interagency assessment involving UN OCHA, WFP and regional coordinators used our maps to show evidence of flooding and secure donor aid for the affected population.

A month later, in September 2021, a river dyke failed along the White Nile in Judah, Eljablein. We equipped WFP Sudan with high-resolution flood analytics to support emergency action following the dyke breach. We provided the first estimates for impact to infrastructure, population, cropland, residential areas and refugee camps. This same high resolution report was used for an inter sectoral engineering assessment on dyke reconstruction in the region. Our analytics were used to plan dyke reconstruction to prevent future flooding in 43 villages, one refugee camp, and surrounding cultivated areas. In our partner’s words, our maps helped WFP Sudan “focus, plan and conduct on the ground assessments to determine emergency response.”

Raising awareness of flood risks at the community level goes a long way in curbing the negative impacts. Is Cloud to Street associated with any such community level involvement?

Cloud to Street’s flood intelligence platform allows for NGOs and humanitarian organizations to work with communities to mitigate against the devastating effects of floods.

Do you have any future expansion plans to cover more areas of flood impacts?

Cloud to Street provides worldwide flood monitoring. By gathering more information and data points, and combining it with historical data and our AI algorithms, our forecasting and measurements become increasingly more accurate. We believe we have everything we need to scale parametric flood insurance globally, even in developing countries with limited flood data.

Also Read: Mitigating the Hurricane’s Fury with Satellite Imagery and AI

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