Digital twins help smart cities to become climate resilient

In News by Stephanie Brain

Digital twins help smart cities to
become climate resilient

Digital twins help
smart cities to become
climate resilient

Ambiental becomes further integrated into a global network of expert colleagues following the launch of Royal HaskoningDHV Digital. Hanneke Schuurmans, leading professional in digital water at Royal HaskoningDHV Digital demonstrates how hydrological digital twins and digital services can contribute to safer and more resilient cities. With a focus on floods, Hanneke explains how the technologies we offer are helping to benefit society, the economy, business, and the environment.

What exactly is a digital twin? There are many definitions, but I prefer the one defined in the Gemini Principles (2018 Centre for Digital Built Britain and Digital Framework Task Group) stating: “a digital twin is a realistic digital representation of assets, processes or systems in the built or natural environment”. Every word in this sentence is of importance. Digital Twins are not necessarily restricted to assets, but also processes or systems. It is all about connecting the physical world to the digital world.

connecting the physical society with the digital society

Connecting the physical society with the digital society, in which data plays a central role and a variety of tools and algorithms enable digital solutions and services. (copyright Royal HaskoningDHV)

Smarter Approaches for Dealing With Floods

In 2018 weather related events led to US$ 166 bn economic losses (2019, Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft, NatCatSERVICE). Besides economic damage, these weather-related losses caused almost 7,000 fatalities. In the top 5 of deadliest events, the first 4 were caused by (flash) flood events. It is evident that due to climate change, extreme weather events occur more often. At the same time urbanisation often leads to both a higher risk for flash floods due to decrease of infiltration capacity as well as higher impact due to increasing economic activities.

weather-related loss events

Relevant weather-related loss events worldwide in 2018, showing its distribution by continent (copyright: 2019, Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft, NatCatSERVICE)

The aim of this article is to demonstrate how hydrological digital twins and digital services can contribute to safer and more resilient cities. Imagine that we receive a message on our smartphone or smartwatch, providing us with the message that severe rain is on its way and showing a map with predicted roads and buildings at risk. Providing me the opportunity to plan a safe route home. Imagine the benefit this can bring for taxi drivers, suppliers and asset managers. We are closer to this than one might think.

The physical world can be represented as a grid, the same being true for hydro-models. For floods, the elevation grid is one of the most important data feeds. Thanks to the latest remote sensing techniques like LiDAR, we can gain information to the resolution of a paving stone with a very high accuracy. This high-resolution data, coupled with improved algorithms and computational power, enables us to model flood events to this same high resolution.

Visualizing flood events in 3D environments and presenting them on interactive map tables, the world of hydrological modelling now has become accessible for other sectors. By connecting hydro twins with other digital twins like building and transport, enables all the necessary stakeholders like urban planners and constructors to interact with each other. Questions such as to what extent critical infrastructure will face a risk when a major flood event strikes the city and how this risk can be reduced with structural measures can now be answered. This is not a future challenge, this is happening here and now.

Visualizing high resolution flood

Visualizing high resolution flood maps and their analytics on interactive screens and maptables enables interaction among different sectors (copyright Royal HaskoningDHV)

Hydro digital twins for hazard prediction, risk scoring and event response

Royal HaskoningDHV has modelled flood hazard maps for many countries at high resolution including the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. By combining these hazard maps with asset information, we are able to indicate the impact of floods for each building. By scoring or labelling the flood risk we create awareness and enable asset owners, insurance industry and governments to make quicker and more accurate decisions around flood risk. Combining this information with the economic impact of floods per asset type we are also able to calculate the potential economic risk to specific areas. This is an essential step in the process of resilience, the creation of awareness enabling the long-term strategic planning for both industries and governmental organisations.

Combining flood maps

By combining flood maps with information of critical assets enables the translation into labels for critical assets like buildings and roads (copyright Royal HaskoningDHV)

As we all know, structural measures require significant time and major investments. At the same time early warning systems play an important role in making cities and industries more resilient to floods. These early warning systems are essential in the operational processes. Real time control systems, controlling the SCADA systems of sluices and gates for example benefit from the information that hydro twins can provide. The hydro digital twin, representing the current status of the city, can handle meteorological real-time data and meteorological forecast and predict the impact of flood events. Royal HaskoningDHV Digital has successfully implemented such systems around the world. By providing warnings (via smartphone, e-mail, sms etc) to residents and businesses, these systems enable their users to take precautionary measures and in this way reduce the impact of such an event.

FloodWatch flood early warnings

Flood early warnings translated into the predicted disruption to the railway network within the FloodWatch Smart City Dashboard (copyright Ambiental, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV)

Enhancing Society Together through Digital Innovation

As this article demonstrates digital twins have already become something more than a futuristic theoretical idea. It is a strongly held belief that these essential digital innovations enable us to make more impact and create a society that is able to cope better with severe weather events. Less disruption and higher performing infrastructure are possible. Essential to this is the underlying principle that digital services and digital twins are shared throughout each sector and across sectors. We can’t prevent weather-related disasters from happening, but we can do our utmost to reduce their impact on society and businesses.

critical assets and economic damage

By combining flood maps with information of critical assets and economic damage curves enables understanding of the economic impacts of flood related hazards (copyright Royal HaskoningDHV)

This article is adapted from a feature published in Smart Water And Waster World Magazine (SWWW) November 2019. To read the full length article follow this link to download it. The Royal HaskoningDHV Digital website contains more information on digital twins and smart solutions. To learn more about how Ambiental can help with smart solutions to flood risk challenges visit our products page.

Hanneke SchuurmansThe author of this article, Hanneke Schuurmans, is leading professional in digital water at Royal HaskoningDHV. She is responsible for the development of scalable digital services that enable industries and governments to become more resilient towards climate- related disruptions. With almost 20 years’ experience, she has worked worldwide on climate risk assessments, building with nature projects and implementations of flood, and drought early warning systems. She holds a PhD in hydrometeorology with a specialization in the use of remote sensing techniques in computation models.

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