Using Technology to Respond to Climate Change

Feeling a little warmer than usual? It’s not your imagination. This summer has already been a scorcher, with most of the country seeing temperatures of over 100 degrees and breaking several records. The NOAA also recently reported that the first 6 months of 2012 were the warmest months on record ever in the history of the United States. Whether you attribute that to climate change or just coincidence, the fact of the matter is several cities and regions throughout the United States and the World are seeing more extreme weather related events and as a result, are taking steps to plan accordingly.

While Federal and International climate change treaties are always in the works, there is a lot of criticism out there that the process is too slow and therefore, there isn’t a lot that has actually been done to combat climate change. Now that climate change is essentially here, regions are realizing they have to adjust accordingly.

With a growing global population of 7 billion, up from just 3 billion 5 decades ago, the demands on natural resources are higher than ever before. These added 6 billion people also need to live somewhere, so they have been moving into coastal regions and other areas that were previously uninhabited before. Couple that with more densely populated communities it’s no wonder that when a disaster strikes, it’s more and more costly to rebuild.

Recognizing this reality, more cities are beginning to take matters into their own hands. C40 is a collection of 40 ‘megacities’, led by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City as the Chair, that has been brought together to establish projects and best strategies for cities to implement and share in response to climate change. The forum is a great start and one that is applauded by many, but incorporating residents and the rest of the community into this project could also prove to be extremely beneficial.

Cities like Plano, Texas have been successfully utilizing engaged residents to report watering violations and leaks during periods of drought through their 311 app. Other cities, like Bradenton Florida have been using their 311 citizen request tool to respond to overflowing storm drain issues following hurricanes and tropical storms. For other counties like Accomack County, Virginia and Webster County, Mo., they used technology to record damage following hurricanes and tornados with geo-targeted photomapping. By documenting damage seamlessly through gps mapping, complete with photos, they’ve been able to minimize fraudulent reimbursement claims and even speed up the time in which they receive needed federal aid.

With the changing environment, it is vital for communities to work together and rally around these important issues. Incorporating mobile, digital and gps technology, helps to make that process even more seamless. As we continue into what is expected to be another brutal month of warm temperatures that could bring about more forest fires, hurricanes and storms, now is the time for cities to implement these programs. Having systems in place before a disaster strikes can only speed up the process for which communities are able to rebuild.

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Lindsey Tepe

It’s great to see how 311 apps continue to be adapted to solve new problems. At NextGEN, Nigel Jacob, Co-Chair of the New Urban Mechanics in the City of Boston, spoke about how their “adopt a hydrant app” had been adapted to an “adopt a siren” program in Hawaii, where residents make sure their adopted hurricane siren is fully functional by regularly checking its batteries.