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Preparing for Extreme Weather Challenges with IoT

From rolling blackouts due to wildfires, to record low water levels and drought in the southwest, and erratic storms that are increasing in power and frequency – extreme weather has been wreaking havoc across the US. The physical effects on municipal infrastructure and human lives have been staggering – and coupled with the skyrocketing costs associated with extreme weather recovery and climate change, cities find themselves at an inflection point when it comes to adopting smart city solutions.

While we can’t change the weather, smart city and IoT technologies can help municipalities and utility managers predict, monitor and respond to outages, flooding and other issues. In fact, according to Wi-Sun Alliance’s The Journey to IoT Maturity report, IoT initiatives for environmental and security monitoring have grown by as much as 87% over the past five years. Municipal leaders are now at a pivotal point in which there is the funding available, outside stakeholders have motivation to support new projects, and the increasing threat of future weather events provide the impetus for timely action.

The monumental infrastructure bill signed in 2021 includes $50 billion in funding to “to protect against droughts, heat, floods and wildfires, in addition to a major investment in weatherization. According to NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, weather events accounted for damages costing approximately $145 billion. IoT and smart city infrastructure is uniquely positioned to help make a difference in weather preparation and risk mitigation efforts. Here are four examples of how IoT and smart city technology can help citizens and municipalities prepare for and survive extreme weather conditions.

  1. Smart metering: This is especially useful for utility outage management. During extreme heat and cold, power outages can be particularly dangerous. With smart metering, utility companies and municipalities can pinpoint outages as they occur to help recovery teams get them back up and running as quickly as possible. Smart metering can also be used for water management to detect unusual usage levels or water loss.
  2. Outage management: Threats from wildfires and aging systems can make the electric grid unstable. By notifying citizens of planned or unplanned outages, along with information when it will be back up and running, IoT technology can reduce citizen anxiety and help people prevent and prepare for outages.
  3. Smart sensors: Wind and weather monitoring sensors running across a smart network can notify crews when and where work is needed. They can also alert systems in the event of a health- or weather-related emergency. For example, in cities with extreme heat, like Phoenix, smart networks employing lidar sensors can detect pedestrian movements and trigger an alert for emergency services when an individual falls to the ground.
  4. Predictive monitoring: Many cities are leveraging smart street lighting to create a foundation to scale smart city infrastructure. By doing so, they are building a network of technology that will enable predictive monitoring to better alert them of extreme conditions before they strike.

The effects of extreme weather is compounded by aging infrastructure in need of updating. These systems are vital to our society, but they are, in many cases, extremely fragile. They need resilience that will allow them to not only withstand climate conditions, but also perform when needed and provide the right data to recover.

Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act provides municipalities with a rare opportunity to invest in smart city initiatives. And to the taxpayers’ benefit, smart city infrastructure is not just a point in time project—but the nature of the technology is that it offers the flexibility to expand and evolve as innovation moves forward.