Soccer team in a huddle

When Smart Cities Fight Mother Nature

September 28, 2015 by Judith Magyar 22

The City of Buenos Aires is battling the elements by installing sensors that analyze weather data on the SAP HANA platform.

Anyone who has ever spent a cold night huddled on a rooftop surrounded by rising flood waters knows it’s terrifying.

Alejandro Zelada, a survivor of massive floods in Buenos Aires in 2013, describes the experience. “It was like a wave, like a tsunami, and all the furniture started to float,” said Zelada whose family was luckier than many others as the water rose over six feet in the streets around his home. “We only lost our belongings, but others lost their lives.”

The Argentine capital is just one of hundreds of cities around the world that face massive devastation caused by catastrophic floods every year. One of the most beautiful port cities in the world, Buenos Aires is built on the banks of Rio de la Plata. Not only is it surrounded by water, it sits on nine other rivers that run underground beneath it. One third of its 3 million people live in a flood prone area.

Technology to the Rescue

Flash flooding often occurs in cities like Buenos Aires that are plagued by torrential seasonal rains simply because trash and debris clog storm drains and city sewers. If maintenance crews knew when and where to clear them, a lot of damage could be prevented.

Almost 100 people died when Buenos Aires and the surrounding region flooded 2 years ago, and the cost came close to 103 million dollars. After that disaster, city leaders were determined to be better prepared next time. They decided to mitigate risks by expanding the use of technology.  The city installed sensors in over 30,000 storm drains that measure the direction, speed and level of water.

Along with weather reports and citizen alerts on social media, the city can now analyzes sensor data on the SAP HANA platform to determine in real time which areas need immediate support.

Last year the citizens of Buenos Aires braced for the worst during non-stop downpours resulting in the most rainfall ever registered in the city’s history. Public officials, however, remained confident, and sure enough, the city did not flood! Neighboring towns that are not running the same solution continue to flood.

A Digital Roadmap to Improve Lives and Save Resources

The World Bank forecasts that global flood losses will reach $1 trillion per year if cities do not start taking preventive measures. Buenos Aires has taken the first steps and is becoming an exemplar in smart city management, not only overcoming the challenge of floods, but changing its entire infrastructure with the help of simple and innovative technology that improves citizens’ lives and saves precious public resources.

Other public and private entities are following suit. Earlier this year enough rain fell in Texas to cover the entire state 8 inches deep leaving many homes and businesses without electricity for days. CenterPoint Energy, a company responsible for delivering electricity and gas to 5.5 million customers around the state, was well prepared. The use of IoT (Internet of Things) technology such as sensors and other devices to collect and analyze data helped them make decisions quickly about where to send maintenance crews to minimize damage.

Like the city of Buenos Aires, CenterPoint is on a journey of digital transformation to solve complex problems with state of the art technology. Using IoT apps built on SAP HANA Cloud Platform they are transforming information into action so the company can manage the volume, veracity, velocity, and variety of their data. As a result, not only does CenterPoint reduce operational costs and manage its assets and resources more efficiently, consumers are also saving energy and money.

Buenos Aires and CenterPoint are just two examples of enterprises that are using technology to completely reimagine how they do business and run operations.  These enterprises are responding to the fact that citizens and consumers expect a new type of experience and smart solutions that make life easier and safer.

By building a digital roadmap now, they are securing their relevance for the future because they are adding true value to their stakeholders: they are either improving products and services or reducing their costs!

The Cities of the Future

With the world population continuing to urbanize and the climate changing rapidly, the economic, social and environmental factors impacting cities will require an even stronger and quicker response from city planners. Programs like SAP Future Cities will play a key role in enabling leaders to better respond to citizens, make faster decisions and manage scarce resources.

Mariana Guerrero contributed to this article.

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