Devastating floods, heatwaves, droughts, and storms are among the new norm of extreme weather events impacting the planet and billions of people around the globe. In Canada, 2021 was the year we became familiar with the term “weather whiplash,” with Environment Canada remarking in their summary of the year’s weather: “Not in 26 years… has there been anything comparable to this year, where Canadians endured such a stream of weather extremes.” Last fall’s COP26 conference, where nations committed to stepping up their actions to tackle climate change, highlighted the severity of the crisis and the urgency with which we must act.
1.3 million animals and six people died, and more than 15,000 had to evacuate their homes during unprecedented floods across the west of the country last summer, making clear the immediate risks and challenges posed by climate change. The crisis is no longer an issue for tomorrow, it is a reality we are living today.
While we cannot change the past, we can, with collective and immediate efforts, begin to reverse the impact of our actions. Tackling the issue requires the urgent and combined effort of governments, organizations, and individuals. And leveraging technology will be integral to our fight to protect people, wildlife, and our planet.
Technology in a time of crisis
To effectively respond to climate events, organizations and communities need the help of advanced technologies both to help reduce carbon emissions and to build resilience against the consequences of climate change. One such technology is BlackBerry AtHoc, a critical event management solution that provides communities with a secure and intelligent networked communications infrastructure.
A critical event management solution can ingest information from a range of sources, including cyber, IT, weather, physical security, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensor systems. During a crisis, the technology can autonomously invoke predefined alerting protocols allowing the appropriate response teams to collaboratively respond. The response can include communications to targeted audiences, designed to alert them to the crisis, account for their safety, and gather situational intelligence during the crisis and through the recovery phase.
As a society living with the results of climate change, it is important that we begin to leverage autonomous technologies to enable public safety. Technologies can be used to monitor the environment for signs of impending danger, such as flood risks, and proactively alert communities to risks so timely action can be taken. These technologies can gather significant amounts of data, continuously, and take intelligent action based on the data.
Flood-prevention and protection
Earlier this year, BlackBerry partnered with the University of Windsor to deploy a first-of-its-kind flood prevention and water quality monitoring solution in Canada. The innovative technology provides autonomous year-round monitoring and an intelligent early warning system, collecting and processing large amounts of sensor data, and generating alerts based on the data insights.
Its proven benefits include its ability to identify both seasonal and unseasonal water-related risks and generate significant cost savings for governments, utility companies, and local communities. Using the solution, local municipalities were estimated to save up to $1 million annually in operating expenses, in addition to the environmental, safety, health, and other benefits of early warning flood mitigation and clean water; a result that no doubt played a part in Frost & Sullivan presenting BlackBerry AtHoc with its 2021 Technology Innovation Leadership Award, recognizing its excellence in providing situational awareness and actionable intelligence to keep people safe.
Reinforcing how widespread the issue is, a study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, led by researchers at the University of Waterloo, found that Indigenous communities in particular are at a higher risk of climate change-induced flooding and that 81 per cent of Canada’s 985 Indigenous land reserves have some flooding exposure that have impacted either the population or residential properties. The study also found that 98.3 per cent of the 809 populated Indigenous reserve areas are exposed to some form of flood hazard.
With such stark figures, it’s imperative that safe water management be added to the federal priority list. With the right investments, public/private partnerships and an all-hands-on-deck approach, collectively we can choose to make Canada a leader in this space before it’s too late.
The Water Innovation Challenge
This past January, in partnership with the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute, BlackBerry launched a first-of-its-kind innovation research challenge for professors and students.
The Water Innovation Challenge invited new applications of BlackBerry technologies to address water-related challenges, including the cybersecurity of water systems, water emergencies, and Internet of Things (IoT) water management solutions.
In support of a mutual commitment to help ensure the availability and sustainable management of water, the Water Innovation Challenge seeks to catalyze new research and technological innovation that advances the sustainability and water related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Water resilience is critical for economic development, climate change, and healthy ecosystems.
Protecting our planet’s future
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that we must be increasingly ready to adapt and respond to crisis. And for this to happen, we must continue to birth and deliver new innovations and forge strong partnerships that leverage technologies to address water management and security if we are to leave a lasting legacy for our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Neelam Sandhu is BlackBerry’s Senior Vice President and Chief Elite Customer Success Officer and chairs the Consumer Technology Associations Artificial Intelligence Committee.