How technology can help reduce the impact of natural disasters

Tech June 10, 2014 00:00

By Gianluca Lange

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Short-sighted design is at the root of much of the destruction caused by environmental crises, whether it is flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis or other natural disasters. Buildings and critical infrastructure have started failing because they were not desig

Even though Thailand has a good geographical location and does not face terrible disasters like its neighbours, it was recently hit by one of the worst earthquakes in the North, which left many buildings, roads and significant sites badly damaged. 
The 6.3-magnitude quake and its 700 or so aftershocks killed two people in Chiang Rai’s Mae Lao district and injured 20. The earthquake was so strong that it could be felt in certain high rises in Bangkok. The Bangkok Fire and Rescue Department said more than 100 buildings in the capital faced the risk of catching fire because they had not been designed to withstand earthquakes. 
However, technology can provide governments, planners and engineers with essential information, offering a better way to predict behaviour of buildings during a natural crisis. In effect, advanced technology provides a proactive method to more effectively create disaster-resistant communities.
Needless to say, it is necessary for the authorities to find new ways to prevent and reduce earthquake damage. This includes the development of infrastructure and long-term maintenance and preparedness in the event of a disaster. 
Technology available today can converge architectural, engineering design and geo-spatial data. Cities have the capability to use precise geo-spatial data and apply it across the entire infrastructure, including operations and maintenance. This integration has enabled significant changes to be put in place to address town planning and management needs.
The creation of virtual city-wide 3D models can help owners, builders, architects, engineers and even the public understand how and where to prioritise restoration efforts in the wake of a disaster, so repairs can be made as quickly as possible. This is particularly relevant for damaged utility networks, whose “up-and-running” status is essential for life and business to return to normal. Furthermore, this model can be used to more effectively plan the city’s future buildings. 
In this case, if officialdom used digital model on the entire city, it will include both above and underground infrastructure. It will be accessible to city planners, surveyors, engineers, public works and others who may need it and helps indicate where the best areas are for future development. 
Using 3D models for construction and for urban planning to help prepare for any future disasters might be a good start for Thailand. 
Gianluca Lange is senior industry manager of Autodesk Asean.