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Digital technology helps Environment Agency deliver earlier flood warnings

The latest flood forecasting system that covers England will use cloud computing, data analytics and data visualisation technologies

The Environment Agency is using cloud computing technology to provide flood forecasting services after agreeing a contract with IT services firm CGI.

The three-year deal, worth £5m, includes the design and delivery of the latest Future Flood Forecasting System (FFFS) for England. The agency aims to provide earlier flood warnings by introducing more automation and a better user experience through map-based visualisation.

The FFFS will use digital technology and data analytics on CGI’s Digital Insight Platform, and will run on Microsoft’s Azure Cloud to cope with peaks in demand.

Floods have blighted the UK in recent years, and flooding is expected to continue to be a problem. While extreme weather cannot be avoided, early warning of potential flooding can help communities be better prepared and thereby reduce the impact.

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The deal also sees the agency bring different regional systems into a single national platform.

“We are absolutely committed to increasing the timeliness, accuracy and usefulness of our flood forecasts to improve our response to flooding, and the Future Flood Forecasting System will play a key role. It will bring together regional systems in a single national system to make it quicker and easier to monitor forecasts and provide our experts with more time to analyse the data and communicate with our teams on the ground,” said Craig Woolhouse, deputy director of flood incident management at the Environment Agency.

The map-based data visualisation technology from Mapcite helps users understand forecasts and assess the potential effects on high-risk areas and assets such as hospitals, sub-stations and schools.

IT systems are increasingly being used for running data analytics to predict natural disasters. For example, Northern Thailand’s Uttaradit province recently trialled a flood simulation system that predicts the impact of flooding. The flood simulation system is one module in NEC’s integrated risk management system, which also includes data integration and visualisation modules.

Separately, in 2016 CGI was commissioned to develop a proof of concept for a service that will provide insurance firms with information about future windstorms. As part of the European Union Copernicus programme – which will use data from satellites, land, sea and air to help predict future weather – the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) awarded CGI the contract to develop a forecast system. The service will then provide information to support the insurance sector, as insurers can lose huge sums as a result of unexpected windstorms.

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