By Dawood Khan
Red Mobile Consulting, Toronto, Canada
TORONTO — On June 20th 2013, Alberta, Canada experienced heavy rainfall that initiated catastrophic flooding. The flooding impacted Calgary, High River, and several areas across southern Alberta. Estimates of damage range between $3 billion and $5 billion. Over 100,000 people were evacuated as their homes were damaged or destroyed by vicious currents and flooding. This is the 2nd so called “100-year storm” to hit Alberta within 8 years. Residents and officials reported that the floods came with little or no warning.
On June 27th 2013, a major Canadian Pacific Railway bridge broke down in Calgary, Alberta. Several oil tankers carrying highly flammable content, were left stranded on the bridge. The calamity was due to faulty piers at the bottom of the river. It was the speed of the flood that scoured away the gravel under the support. The support gave way and the tracks buckled under the weight of the train. This occurred despite the fact that the 101 year old bridge had been inspected 18 times since the start of the flooding.
Government officials have claimed that it may take 10 years for Calgary to recover from the event.
Early warnings through the use of smart technologies and investment in intelligent infrastructure can greatly help authorities and communities deal with calamities by preparing for them in advance. Through the use of sensors and wireless connectivity, it is possible to measure rapidly rising water tables, eroding construction materials, and support systems. And to alert or even take pre-emptive measures to minimize the impact of an impending disaster.
While one doesn’t know if the Alberta flood warning would have come soon enough for authorities to fully operationalize a flood emergency plan, but it certainly would have provided some heads up to at least initiate measures such as starting to sandbag the most vulnerable areas, and issue public alerts to provide the public some time to plan ahead of the evacuation.
Certainly, in the case of erosion of materials or support mechanisms for bridges, warnings can be provided to trains, and even pre-emptive measures can be taken automatically to ward off trains from proceeding on the line.
A sizable number of Canadian infrastructure are believed to be over 40 years of age.
Canada’s new Economic Action Plan proposes to set aside $50B for infrastructure over the next 10 years through funding programs including the Building Canada Fund, Community Improvement Fund, and P3 Canada. As these new infrastructure projects are planned, it is imperative that intelligence be incorporated into them from the very start of the initiative rather than as an after-thought.
Infrastructure is typically designed to last generations, making it even more critical to the advance planning. It is interesting to note how far Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and services have progressed over the life span of most infrastructure.
Making infrastructure intelligent by incorporating smart technologies and progress in ICT and big data analytics can allow local, provincial, and federal authorities to not only track infrastructure decay, but also enable preventive maintenance when required. This can greatly enhance the useful service life of such infrastructure, reduce cost of repair before it is too late, and avert recurring costs as a result of damage to individuals or property.