Just think of that holiday at crowded beaches with an ice-cream cone in your hand. The summertime comes with joy, and – well, storms too. The people of Hong Kong have a love-hate relationship with typhoons. And with the hoisting of the first No. 8 storm signal in early July, this year’s typhoon has been officially ushered in.
Many of us may not have experienced the super typhoon Wanda in 1962 which brought terrible damages on buildings and harmed many dwellers. Compared with the past, buildings in Hong Kong today are much better prepared to withstand the violence of the storms. Yet two super typhoons -- Hato and Mangkhut in 2017 and 2018 -- still managed to cause severe damages, with car owners suffering significant losses because of the flooding in basement carparks.
With the technological advancement in the 21st century so far, many may wonder if there are better means for us to prepare for these natural disasters.
Timely Disaster Preparedness with Technology and Big Data
The Worldwide Envision Centre (WEC) was founded in Hong Kong in 2006, with a dedicated research and development (R&D) team studying the use of technology in disaster preparedness. Kannas Lau, sales and marketing manager of the WEC, told Channel 823 that her company has invested a team at the Science Park specialising in the development of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, aiming to assist property managers to monitor real-time conditions of their buildings with technology and big data and mitigate any damages by remedying minor issues at the early stages.
Severe typhoons or rainstorms can cause widespread electricity outage if the electrical wires are short-circuited from flooding. To counter this, WEC installs IoT sensors in high-risk areas such as rooftops, air handling unit rooms, and switch rooms to monitor water level around the clock. In the case of a rise in water level or an unusual leakage, the system would notify property management, enabling immediate follow-up actions.
Crying Wolf: The Problem of False Alarm
One may think that the IoT system is just about installing sensors, but the practical application of the technology is much more than that. “Even during normal drainage, the water level in the pipes would naturally rise,” Jerry Yu, WEC’s IoT Solutions Manager, explained. “If we simply install the sensors, then regular drainage would trigger them, resulting in false alerts.” As such, not only would such a system fail to convey the true condition at the property, but the frequent false alarm could ultimately confuse and mislead management. At the same time, staff may think that the system is just “crying wolf,” consequently missing the opportunity to remedy the real risks when they do present themselves.
Hence, before installing the sensors, Jerry would always communicate with frontline property management staff. “With their experience, they know when and where to expect flooding and leakage, and also under what weather conditions. We would then use these intelligence to tailor our system and propose customised solutions.”
Typhoons and rainstorms are battle days for property management teams and the IoT system help them get hold of the flooding reports on a real-time basis. Besides the risks of flooding, the IoT sensors can also alert property management team about maintenance when water pipe leakages are detected. “Sometimes the problem results from clogging or a misplaced pipe. An early detection of these issues can prevent the problems from worsening.”
With 129 properties across 15 districts serving millions of Hong Kong residents every day, Link sees safety issues at its properties of paramount importance, especially during severe weather. In April, Link has test run WEC’s IoT solution system at T.O.P, TKO Gateway and TKO Spot, enabling around-the-clock monitoring of water levels.
“When issues like flooding or leakages arise, the system would alert us by phone or email, so that we could follow up promptly,” said Jeff Mau, Link’s Director of Property Management. “And we have further extended the IoT system to ten more properties across Hong Kong in late June as part of our ongoing efforts to boost severe weather preparedness.”
Storm Preparedness: Disaster Drills and Flood Barriers
Besides technology, Link also arranges annual training and disaster drills for its staff. During a typhoon, staff would fortify signages, remove loose items, and check drainage systems for blockage. “After Super Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut, we have inspected all our coastal and low-lying properties. We fitted these buildings and basement carparks with flood barriers and flood gates to mitigate the impact of severe weather.”
Concerted efforts to prepare for severe circumstances are vital to the entire community. Not only focusing on its own properties, Link also invites other stakeholders to jointly work on disaster preparedness. “Many of our retail properties lie adjacent to residential property clusters. To prevent backflow in the manholes or the drainage system, we keep close contact with the Drainage Services Department who helps relieve flooding and clogged pipes in public area. We also work closely with the Housing Department and representatives of the owners’ associations to make sure that the flood control systems are functioning properly. All these measures would help prepare us for the typhoon season.”