IoT Technology Mitigates Flood, Climate Change Effects

Feb. 4, 2022
Semtech, the town of Cary & SAS Institute are reducing flood risks with the help of IoT technology 

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘smart cities?’ While you might like to imagine something from the 1960s sitcom The Jetsons, with futuristic flying cars and ready-to-eat meals at the touch of a button, today’s smart cities look different. During the past few years, future-forward cities across the world have started leveraging advanced technologies to optimize operations and solve real world challenges. In some cases, you may have heard the term ‘connected’ city, which should not be confused with a ‘smart’ city. Let’s explore this more. 

There is a significant difference between a ‘smart’ city and a ‘connected’ city. In many ways the term ‘smart city’ has been largely overused in recent years. When a city deploys smart sensors, for example, in support of air quality, parking meters, trash cans and water levels, the data availability for all of those parameters is only the first step in the process of becoming ‘connected.’ To move toward a truly ‘smart’ city, they must analyze those data points in a streaming analytics process, the result of which are predictive and preventative insights which drive decisions. To completely capture and analyze this data is to be a true smart city.

This is all possible thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Equipped with wireless sensors that leverage long range, low power technology to collect data and provide actionable insights to end-users, IoT devices have become a cost effective and efficient method of two-way communication. IoT supports industries including retail, healthcare, industrial, education and more, bringing value-added smart solutions to everyday products and devices.

Long Range, Low Power Technologies Make the World Safer

IoT will continue to play a key role in developing smart cities for years to come. Today, cities and towns across the world are challenged with finding solutions to better support a clean, sustainable planet and minimize their carbon footprint. As climate change has become a big topic of focus internationally, municipalities across the world are taking action to mitigate the effects brought on by climate change, such as rising temperatures and sea level, drought, erosion and flooding. 

Long range, low power sensors paired with IoT applications can be used for a variety of use cases: air quality monitoring, protecting wildlife, detecting gas and water leaks, monitoring groundwater systems and more. Small sensors featuring Semtech’s LoRa devices are particularly useful since they can be installed in areas like sewers and alleyways to continuously monitor environmental conditions including flooding and track water levels and depths in real time. 

IoT flood management solutions not only protect people, but also structures, systems and businesses from environmental dangers. In turn, this real-time data-driven streaming analytics allows communities to act fast and prepare for bad situations before they happen. 


IoT Minimizes Flood Risks

The risk of flooding is rising dramatically in densely populated urban cities and towns, which, according to Statista, is home to 82% of people living in the United States. This number is expected to jump to 89% by 2050. With more citizens at risk to the dangers of flooding each year, it’s vital for these groups to find solutions that minimize risk to life, property and businesses. By analyzing data and providing real-time insights, these solutions are able to help detect potential flooding concerns. 

The town of Cary, North Carolina, is one of many towns leveraging IoT technology to improve the lives of their citizens and detect potential flooding. Located outside of the state’s capital, Cary is a community of more than 175,000 residents – and rapidly transforming into one of the smartest towns in the U.S. 

You may be wondering how Cary has earned this title. Simply put, it has been working with companies in IoT and data and analytics to leverage technology solutions that solve challenges within the community, resulting in an impact on the wider global ecosystem.

The Partnership

The town of Cary recently announced its partnership with Semtech, the creator of LoRa technology – a long range, low power radio enabling our world to become a smarter planet – and the SAS Institute, a data analytics company also based in Cary. In collaboration with the town, they are building a leading Center of Excellence that will facilitate the development and deployment of edge-to-Cloud IoT solutions across all of Cary. These community-focused solutions will not only solve real world challenges but also make Cary a benchmark for other municipalities to replicate for years to come.

These IoT solutions will be powered by SAS, built on Microsoft Azure, to provide real-time analytical insights into the data creating predictions that help solve specific challenges and offer an interconnected world with better ways to monitor and safeguard communities, people and resources. Alongside the SAS IoT analytics platform, the end-to-end solutions incorporate LoRaWAN connectivity, a globally accepted standard maintained by the LoRa Alliance for Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) applications. The LoRaWAN standard is used to deploy IoT networks in more than 100 countries. 

LoRa devices are positioned for long battery life, with some sensors able to last up to 20 years without being replaced. These low power devices reduce the need for maintenance, which allow them to operate in hard-to-reach areas and environments that would normally require lots of upkeep. 

Short range options tend to rely on connections to gateways or base stations inside the very buildings that they are deployed to protect. Hence, when the building power goes down, so does the connection. A long range connection from battery powered LoRa devices to multiple gateways on a high-points well away from the incident offers greater resiliency. Not only does LoRaWAN connectivity offer two-way communications, but it can penetrate dense building materials to communicate in urban environments at a low operating cost, unlike Wi-Fi, which doesn’t operate efficiently over long distances and in remote areas. By integrating apps like Amazon Alexa with sensor data, municipalities can alert residents to potential danger and suggest resources or commands for better protection. 

Similarly, the installation of long range, low power sensors within smart cities can help facilitate the exchange of information between indoor and outdoor environments from flood management to other services, such as lighting, parking, air quality and more. This can reduce maintenance, costs and deployment issues to benefit end users and the environment.

RELATED: A Place for Technology in Storm Water Management

IoT Technology Supports Flooding Initiatives for Cary

Interestingly, this collaboration is not Cary’s first go-round with SAS. In the summer of 2007, the town first announced its commitment to improve public safety and development services by teaming up with SAS to leverage its analytics systems. This upgrade included using SAS software to improve the efficiency of operations, anticipate staffing needs, increase employee productivity, reduce decision-making time and allow employees to access data needed to better perform their jobs. 

What initially started as a four-year project, expanded following the success of the program. While still leveraging the SAS analytics platform to improve the lives of its citizens and day-to-day operations of the town, the project scope expanded its focus on environmentally friendly, sustainable solutions. 

Historically, Cary has faced challenges with storm drain water running into the road, parking lots, sidewalks and even into buildings. These all pose hazards to residents and their properties. With IoT solutions able to alert residents to potential instances of flooding, the town can take a proactive approach to flooding, and town officials can regularly monitor rain levels and rising water to give residents ample time to prepare. 

Cary instituted a Stormwater Division that is responsible for capturing, managing and analyzing floodwater data. Sensors measure the water height, depth, flow and rainfall totals, which are then uploaded to the Cloud and combined with other weather models to predict the strategy for public works, public safety and information technology departments in the town. 

The future of Cary is bright, thanks to the ingenuity of advanced tech. With more flooding occurring each year, IoT solutions leveraging ultra-low power and long range technologies coupled with data analytics provide communities with actionable insights and streamlined services at an affordable cost to keep citizens and communities safe. 

About the Author

Richard Lansdowne

Richard Lansdowne is senior director, business development for Semtech