How Big Data Means “Bigger is Better” for Weather Safety & Resilience

9-3-15 Figure 4 Data Comparison Final

As conversations about the application of Big Data come out of the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos this week, I recall how the headline, Is IBM Building the Most Powerful Weather Service the World Has Ever Seen?, made perfect sense to me. The article described how IBM purchased The Weather Company’s digital and data assets in a deal inspired by opportunities in Big Data. The Wall Street Journal valued the transaction at more than $2 billion, and IBM described their rationale:

With this acquisition, IBM is going to harness one of the largest big data               opportunities in the world — weather. Weather is probably the single largest swing factor in business performance — it impacts 1/3 of the world’s GDP and in the U.S. alone, weather is responsible for about half a trillion dollars in impact. Weather affects every aspect of the economy – energy usage, travel and transportation, new construction, agricultural yields, mall and restaurant traffic, etc.

This move is a profound illustration of the opportunity that Big Data presents in the realm of disaster resilience, a topic we addressed in our paper, Understanding the Intersection of Resilience, Big Data, and the Internet of Things in a Changing Insurance Marketplace.

Truly, with $500 Billion (yes they say billion) in opportunity costs on the line, Big (weather) Data can not only inform to, but can revolutionize industries and movements across the world.

In my last blog, I discussed the movement behind resilience metrics—an issue that can be categorized as a “Big Data” problem. Like all sectors, we’re experiencing the advent of exploding amounts of data, and one growing source of this data is from the Internet of Things (IoT).

One IoT example in homes is the Nest Thermostat. The device not only indicates the temperature in your house, but it issues alerts if it detects significant temperature swings. The obvious advantage is that you learn of potential system problems right away. Consider the power of learning that your home temperature is dropping during winter weather conditions. This could provide invaluable lead time to prevent costly damage like frozen pipes, especially if you’re away from home when the alert arrives. The device can help you keep up with routine maintenance as well by tracking air filter usage, and reminding you when filters are ready to be changed.

Smart home technology like Nest’s helps us understand IoT and information (data) creation, but the questions of how to harness and leverage all the new information once we have it takes us back to the Big Data side of the equation…

Big Data issues are taking center stage in our movement as social science efforts explore the interrelation of Big Data and resilience at the United Nations’ Global Pulse, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the World Bank. These initiatives raise common issues around resilience and Big Data, including:

  • How can we protect privacy while still benefitting from the data?
  • How (can) the different, emerging resiliency efforts integrate into an understandable system?
  • Who are the decision-makers, data owners, and what are their rights?
  • Should insurers/reinsurers heighten engagement or simply design their own system?

It’s clear that tremendous value lies in the use of Big Data, like the IBM weather data deal described above. What we envision is applying Big Data on building features managed through a philosophy of transparency to benefit residents and communities alike. We want to capture and share the relevant building data that drives ultimate home performance during a disaster or over time, and I will cover this in a future blog.

IBM’s vision for Big (weather) Data is just the start. We all must get and stay involved to ensure we leverage Big Data, one of most promising and powerful tools for creating a reliably strong, safe and durable built environment. As we know, that is the most essential element of resilience.

If What Gets Measured Gets Done, How Can We Measure Resilience?

Many of us in the disaster-resilience movement have witnessed and participated in the creation of resilience measurement systems. Along the way, we’ve observed that one of the strongest aspects of our movement is also what makes measurement so difficult: diversity. There are so many puzzle pieces that must be considered—economic, physical, political, and social—just to name a few.

In October of this year, we released a paper entitled Understanding the Intersection of Resilience, Big Data, and the Internet of Things in the Changing Insurance Marketplace, in which we explored resilience measurement as well as issues of Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT). The good news is that the landscape is rich with efforts to apply a measuring stick to resilience from micro- up to macro-levels. The other news is that this issue is mindboggling in its enormity.

So over the next couple of posts, I plan to return to an examination of these issues because Big Data and the IoT can transform the disaster-resilience movement, and the implications are almost unfathomable. These concepts and their intersection present opportunities that we must understand and plan for before we can harvest any benefits, or at least prevent unintended consequences.

The first step is to develop uniform, consistent metrics to gauge progress toward resilient communities. We need verifiable, practical, and replicable tools. And we need to apply these tools to quality data.

At FLASH, we are concerned with community-wide resilience, but our work focuses more particularly on strengthening homes and safeguarding families from the ground up with strong building codes, beyond-code mitigation, and personal preparedness as part of a culture of resilience. These are foundational aspects of community resilience of course.

But here’s the challenge. Data on building characteristics and performance is not historically granular enough to derive ongoing insights except in certain post-disaster situations. Even then, we must obtain onsite analysis. That is why we need forensic engineering efforts like FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team post-disaster to assess structural performance, and evaluate failure patterns to inform to better building codes and standards in the future.

But this is where Big Data and the need for quality data (IoT) can make a difference. When IoT generated-data from new or emerging technologies like sensors can give us precise information on how a building performs, how will we leverage the information for better building practices to avoid future losses? Can we use the Big Data generated by the IoT to get ahead of the next disaster instead of learning after the fact? And what are the accepted metrics (if any) to build a credible database for our insights?

One way to understand the potential of Big Data and IoT is to apply the question to modern water detection systems. The marketplace is exploding with products like Fibaro Flood Sensor, Quirky Overflow, Utilitech Leak Detector, Wally, WaterCop, and more. These systems use sensors to detect moisture, temperature, and humidity and can identify water leakage from all kinds of sources like dishwashers, frozen pipes, washing machine hoses, and water heaters. This triggers an alert to the resident who can stop the leak, clean up the water, and prevent or mitigate costly damage and repairs.

This is a very meaningful breakthrough in loss prevention given the billions paid annually in water-involved insurance losses.

But in our vision of Big Data and IoT, we’d take it several steps further. Leak occurrences would be analyzed in the context of type of appliance, type of pipes, weather conditions, age of home, installation methods, etc. And any relevant specifics would be captured to develop insights on better (or worse) performing construction methods, products, and technologies. This data would inform to future products and practices.

From there, a database of homes with certain characteristics would be built. And this same approach using sensors and tech could be applied to many other failure modes from wind to seismic. All of these databases then would become elements of resilience measurement. Indeed, some already are.

The water detection example shows how resilience metrics are a Big Data problem. The myriad water detection devices cited above create data, but how to sort, harvest, and use the data effectively has a long way to go if it will be valuable beyond the individual loss. This type of micro-measurement is just one of the many ways we grapple with resilience measurement.

In our paper, we also examine various macro-resilience metrics/frameworks/indices including the U.S. Resiliency Council’s effort to rank buildings for seismic performance.

The key is working out how the micro-metrics and data can be developed and reliably applied in the macro-context of community resilience. There are existing options. For residential structures, MLS could include scores on the structural integrity, and attendant durability and life expectancy of a home and/or its location relative to natural hazards. Trulia and Zillow can make this information transparent to homeowners, and it would finally be a factor in driving the market value. Think about it. How is it that the most important aspect of a home—its structural integrity—is still not transparent to homeowners?

Cisco projects that by the year 2020 there will be 37 billion smart products on the market. Juniper Research predicts that there will be 10 million smart connected devices by 2017. It’s time for us to figure out a formula to harness the explosion of data that is headed our way.

This is an important conversation that is only beginning. Our next blog will look at the larger issue of Big Data and disaster resilience and how these movements are converging. And, you may want to join us as we spotlight this issue during our 2016 Annual Conference Meeting with a panel entitled The Next Generation of Resilient Communities. We are bringing together leading voices from government, private, and association to share their perspectives on current initiatives, opportunities, and challenges of fostering resilient communities.

Either way, we look forward to the ongoing conversation.

 

 

What I Learned About Terrorism While Living Abroad … Resilience As A Way of Life

Almost 30 years ago, I lived in the Republic of Turkey and worked as a field administrator for the City Colleges of Chicago at the joint NATO Air Base at Incirlik. At that time, Turkey had just come out from under military law that was put in place to control the dangerous conditions wrought by terrorist and separatist factions.

It was the early 1980’s, and the collective mood in the country was fairly optimistic as the economy was growing, resources were abundant, and government policy made education and employment opportunities accessible for residents throughout the region.

Don’t misunderstand. Conditions were decidedly different from the U.S., and our family observed a more restrictive lifestyle than back home. But, all in all, we traveled throughout the country with relatively few restrictions, visiting ancient ruins and historic sites, shopping for carpets and copper keepsakes, and connecting with the warm and welcoming population.

The experience was vastly better than I expected. Before I moved there, I had concerns about how much, or little, freedom I would have as a woman in that culture. I worried about security. I also wondered if I would feel “different” to an extent that would make my time there difficult and uncomfortable.

So we planned. In an era without digital communication (or even fax machines) we had a telephone tree. We had a dedicated neighborhood “watch” system, traveled in pairs whenever possible, and checked on each other. We established meeting places in case of any incidents, like bombings, and, throughout, we remained vigilant.

As it turned out, the main hazard we confronted during my time in Turkey (besides water-borne stomach illness) was seismic. So, we added earthquake safety to our overall, real, yet subtle state of readiness. As a result, we maintained physical and mental resilience in the face of known and unknown threats.

No doubt, my nearly four years in Turkey played a formative role in how I live my life today. I am risk aware, risk averse, and a professional risk communicator and disaster resilience advocate. I can’t imagine a more empowering way of living.

After Turkey, I spent a dozen years in the corporate world of insurance (a natural homeland for the risk conscious) working disaster preparedness, catastrophe claims response, and billion-dollar catastrophe exposure reduction initiatives. And, after that, I had the opportunity to help create and lead our organization where I’ve dedicated the last 17 years to promotion of risk awareness, mitigation, planning, and leveraging resilience strategies to improve life for all in harm’s way.

As I joined the world last weekend as a witness to the horrors wrought by the murderous Paris terrorist attacks, I reflected on what we can do in what some predict will be our new normal. It’s clear that we may not be able to prevent future terrorist strikes. But what we can do is be aware, plan, and prepare to be a helpful part of a solution no matter what happens.

We must follow the call to arms, “If you see something, say something”. And in all settings, whether entertainment or travel or just around our hometowns, we must make contingency planning our new normal. It’s really not complicated, and with a bit of practice, it becomes second nature. For me, it comes as easily as breathing. No matter what I’m doing, I always have a plan “B”.

Sadly, as our time in Turkey came to a close, the era of optimism was ending. Terrorist bombings took place in Ankara and Athens, and threats to other military installations were on the rise. As an expectant mother, I implemented my ultimate contingency plan and left the country.

Today, we cannot and will not leave our country. And we cannot be intimidated by terrorists to stay home or be afraid. We must be resolute, and we can be resilient.

All it takes is a bit of practice.

New Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® Paper on Disaster Resilience, Insurance, and Technology

Understanding the Intersection of Resilience, Big Data, and the Internet of Things in the Changing Insurance Marketplace

There has been a recent explosion of data and technology, affecting every aspect of society. The resilience movement is no different. This paper examines the intersection of big data, including efforts to measure resilience and telematics, and the Internet of Things (IoT), including smart home technology.

From the 2005 initiative to score individual houses as part of the $250 million My Safe Florida Home program, to current efforts at the U.S. Resiliency Council to rank buildings for seismic performance, one thing is clear—comprehensive building rating programs are emerging alongside the call for disaster resilience in communities across the globe.

The other side of measuring resilience and big data generally is the IoT. Specifically, the smart home technology movement has the potential to create an enormous amount of data, and that data can revolutionize how we understand risk. This paper explores how smart home technology can make homes not just smarter, but safer and stronger as well.

The potential for smart home technology is limitless. A home can be transformed in a way that both optimizes the functionality of a dwelling, and provides previously unknown insights about the behavior of the homeowner to more accurately assess risk. There are crucial considerations to the success of smart home technology, and security and data privacy are essential. The status of telematics is examined, as well as how they represent a full circle back to the role of big data.

This paper provides a framework of considerations for approaching the potentially groundbreaking convergence of big data and the IoT to transform the resilience movement and the overall safety and strength of residential structures.

Click here to download or read the full paper.

Even As the Ground Shakes Near Memphis, Leaders Chose Denial Over Disaster Safety

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Photo Credit: WBIR

Last week, I used this forum to discuss the first of our six recommendations to innovate the U.S. building code system published in our new commentary, Disaster Resilience Rising Means the Time is Right. This week, I am scheduled to discuss our second recommendation:

2. Optimize property protection opportunities in model   code and standard development by balancing all of the existing values, including public health, safety, and welfare.

This is a timely discussion in light of action underway at the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission where it is clear that some Tennessee officials are missing the critical linkage between public policy and disaster safety.

The purpose of the International Residential Code is “to establish minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety, health and general welfare….” Unfortunately, the issue of cost is often the loudest argument against the adoption of modern building codes. But the welfare of the family, or families, during the expected lifespan of a home should be given equal weight in building code considerations.

Today, however, the upfront cost to the builder or first buyer has eclipsed the critical, long-term value of welfare.

And this is exactly the problem in Memphis and Shelby County, where city council members and county commissioners are poised to complete passage of amendments that will further weaken home bracing requirements by as much as 50 percent.

Some background: In 2014, after decades of delay, these same leaders implemented a compromise that required modern earthquake bracing for the first time. However, that compromise fell short of the model code by about 30 percent, allowing homebuilders to construct homes below the suggested levels of minimum, national life-safety codes.

Now they are moving to further reduce requirements essential for safety in not just earthquakes, but floods, and high winds. They are suggesting short-term cost savings as a justification for this eye-popping action, ignoring long-term home quality.

They are also placing unknowing families in potentially deadly jeopardy.

According to news reports, Councilman Reid Hedgepeth constructed a $750,000 home last summer, and identified the cost for seismic requirements at about $10,000, or 1.33% of the total construction cost. By his support of the new amendments, are he and his peers (including Councilman Jim Strickland) saying that a one percent savings is worth the risk that a home will collapse in an earthquake, float away in a flood, or tear apart in a windstorm?

This latest Memphis situation is another incident in a long-running back and forth between local homebuilder interests and a coalition of academics, architects, emergency managers, engineers, risk communicators, safety advocates, and scientific researchers. The coalition has gone to extraordinary lengths to work with local builders and elected officials by providing extensive, third-party studies to overcome the fears of undue cost; by bringing forth national experts with unassailable building science performance data to explain the value of the new building practices; and much more.

Even after all this sincere effort, and a 3.5 magnitude earthquake next door in Tipton County this week, local leaders are still willing to abandon the needed upgrades.

Last August, the South Napa Valley earthquake provided proof positive of phenomenal building performance driven by use of the new model codes. Sadly, Memphis and Shelby County have gone barely a year with their improved code, and soon they will again build in a way that is certain to fall short when the worst happens there.

According to the Oxford dictionary, welfare is defined as, “the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or a group.”

With the amendments close to passage, all we are left to do is etch the names of the officials involved into the public record. That way, when the worst happens, we can recognize the path to diminished “health, happiness, and fortunes” for residents of Western Tennessee. 

Exploring Innovative Intersections of Building Codes and Resilience

Last week, we released our latest building code commentary, Disaster Resilience Rising Means the Time is Right with six recommendations for how to innovate the current U.S. building code system.

So in our next six blog posts, we are going to examine each of our recommendations, one by one, with an eye on how to take each of these ideas forward. Our first recommendation is to:

  1. “Establish a standing code and standard development process to accelerate post-catastrophe, forensic engineering insights into model codes and standards.”

In the Commentary, we highlighted different organizations that investigate post-disaster building performance. We discussed the myriad scientific and technical stakeholders in the building realm, with a focus on FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT)—the signature body that diagnoses building performance and failure causes after major U.S. disasters. Once we understand the MAT and similar systems, along with historic building failure findings, it becomes clear that these investigations are essential to future building performance in deadly, costly catastrophes.

Our recommendation is simple. It proposes an enhancement of the current post-disaster building “crash investigation” system by establishing a standing mechanism to accelerate incorporation of building performance findings into model building codes. The current International Code Council development process creates model building codes on three year cycles. We would like to see disaster insights incorporated into the building codes more rapidly than three years, so that minimum construction standards reflect the costly lessons learned from disaster without delay.

It is important to note that not all post-disaster insights are fashioned into codes from the top down. Often, as in Florida post-Andrew and New York post-Sandy, local and state officials update codes with ground-up disaster insights. But this means that only those affected areas benefit from those costly lessons. Why not use model codes to ensure the lessons benefit a larger population? Either way, whether through national model code development or from local amendments, prompt integration of improved building practices into building codes is an essential way to ensure such failures only happen once.

Thanks to dedicated engineers and scientists, we already do an excellent job of analyzing the successes and failures of building performance after earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even wildfires. And the faster we integrate these costly insights into the way we build, the better off we will all be because deadly lessons learned once shouldn’t be learned twice.

We look forward to working with our partners at the International Code Council to fast track these lessons to benefit all in harm’s way.

2015 Florida Mayor’s Resilience Symposium: Local Leaders Rising to Meet the Wicked Problem of Resilience

frDuring the summer of 2012, I delivered a workshop on disaster mitigation as part of the Florida League of Mayors/League of Cities Annual Conference. I always reflect after a speaking engagement, and while I perceived that the audience was interested, I wasn’t sure I generated “edge of the seat” engagement. Understandably, Mayors are constantly balancing a long list of important priorities, and presenters just like me are always competing for their attention.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014 when I spoke again at the same conference. The audience was not only engaged, but they were on their feet. Mayor Ashton Hayward of Pensacola told us about wind mitigation retrofit programs. Mayor Sam Ferreri, an architect by profession, detailed flood mitigation infrastructure projects in his Palm Beach County community of Greenacres. All present joined the discussion of sea level rise impacts and the bipartisan South Florida Climate Action Pledge.

So what changed from 2012 to 2014? Clearly, resilience had “arrived”. Indeed, it had moved to the top of the long list of mayoral “to do’s”.

To keep the momentum going following the 2014 conference, we forged an official partnership with the Florida League of Mayors to advance our shared commitment to resilience. During May of this year, we convened the first Florida Mayors Resilience Symposium where we connected our groups and delivered a day-long program of information on disaster and climate resiliency from all angles.

In my talk, I outlined the essential elements for strong, safe, and resilient communities. Namely: strong, well-enforced codes and standards; consumers and leaders who understand, value, and demand stronger, safer buildings; higher education that includes building codes and mitigation; incentives (insurance, real estate, and tax); innovators in all sectors; and research—building, social science, and more.

I shared my conviction formed from more than 17 years in this movement that Mayors hold a powerful key. They can make the case for policies that prepare their constituents for the future. They can open (or close) the doors to adoption of modern, model building codes, and the resources necessary for enforcement of same. They can give voice to resilience as a top priority in their communities because, like politics, all disasters are local.

Federal and state governments can provide resources to communities to increase resilience beforehand, and they certainly provide resources for recovery after the fact. But the communities that are truly resilient take ownership and make it a priority to put all the pieces together ahead of time in a way that is unique to its culture, history, and values.

That is why mayors are the MVPs on the team for climate and disaster resilience.

We saw evidence of this during Ft. Myers’ Mayor Randall Henderson’s symposium presentation. He shared their waterside development plan that incorporated flood maps, evacuation zone maps, and more. Clearly, their planning incorporated insights from our friends at NOAA.

We also heard a passionate call to action from former county commissioner/now Florida State Representative Kristin Jacobs who riveted the gathering with her clarity on sea level rise and linkage between disaster and climate resilience.

This groundswell of local leadership, along with impressive initiatives to measure and quantify resilience driven by federal resources, is creating excitement and commitment that we need to advance our shared cause. However, we still need all sectors to commit and participate.

Joe Tankersley of Unique Visions, a futurist, former Walt Disney Imagineer, and member of our board of directors led the closing dialogue at the symposium and introduced resilience as a “wicked problem” requiring foresight and strategic decisions. The term “wicked problem” was popularized in the 1973 article Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, and it “refers to a complex problem for which there is no simple method of solution.” [Financial Times http://www.ft.com/home/us]

We agree with Joe. There is no better term when discussing the issue of resilience, and we need continue to create innovative, multi-discipline solutions to achieve our desired goals. So as we expand our partnership with the Florida League of Mayors to mayors across the nation, we will continue to listen to local challenges and needs. We will develop information and tools to empower local leaders. And we will craft innovative solutions to disaster-safety barriers.

When we do this, we will continue our trek down this path to a world that not only survives disasters, but bounces back better than before.