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Closer ties and AI could help tackle flooding

The impact and likelihood of floods could be reduced through closer ties between people living in areas prone to flooding and relevant agencies. The idea was one of several to emerge from Northumbrian Water Group's recent NWG Innovation Festival.

The week-long event brought together flood experts and victims, as well as academics and people from a wide range of businesses, with a series of new ideas developed and then presented to water industry leaders. The proposals will now be worked on by NWG and partners from business and academia that took part in the festival, including headline sponsor IBM, which helped lead the search for ideas.

These ideas ranged from community champion figures who would act as liaisons between relevant agencies and the community to an artificial intelligence system that delivers bespoke information to people, based upon their own specific experiences, locations and needs.

During the week, a five-day “sprint” saw around 80 people focusing on the issue of flooding, taking it from an outline of the problem to ideas that can be developed. Sprints apply leading design thinking techniques to real world issues.

The sprint, entitled ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? was one of six such activities carried out at the same time at the NWG Innovation Festival, which took place at Newcastle Racecourse. Ideas that came out of the sprint, and which will be developed by NWG in partnership with a range of other organisations, include:

  • Members of the public would work closely with relevant agencies and help to keep communities informed to help reduce flood risk and enable people to be better supported when they are affected
  • The creation of an agency that links directly with customers to give and receive bespoke information on flooding, helping to reduce flood risk
  • A collaborative approach to reducing the surface water that runs from the landscape into water courses
  • A system that utilises artificial intelligence (AI) technology to deliver bespoke flood information to users, so they are better informed about how to respond when problems occur.

Chris Jones, NWG’s research and development manager, said: “The NWG Innovation Festival has helped us to work together with a wide range of individuals and companies to take a fresh view on the very broad subject of flooding.

“We know that when someone experiences flooding in their homes it can be one of the most devastating things that can happen to them. This is why we place such a strong focus upon reducing the chances of it happening and also the way that we, and others, can support people when flooding does happen. Some of the ideas that came out of the NWG Innovation Festival can make a really positive impact in these areas and we are already looking at how we can start developing and delivering them.”

The NWG Innovation Festival was supported by IBM, Microsoft, Ordnance Survey, BT, CGI Group and Reece Innovation. It was also delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley, Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.

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