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3 min read

Let's use smart infrastructure for climate adaptation

Smart tech solutions to rebuild critical infrastructure
  • A major solution to fix aging infrastructure to adapt to climate change realities is building smarter – not bigger.

  • When it comes to choosing the right technology to implement, we should look for smart INFRASTRUCTURE solutions that offer monitoring, alerting, and reporting capabilities in a secure manner.

The United States is known for a “bigger is better” mindset, but when it comes to building an infrastructure that accounts for climate change, that attitude is outdated. The solution to fix aging infrastructure is actually building smarter – not bigger – especially when applied to adjusting and building infrastructure that supports climate change-resistant efforts.


Municipalities need to take action to help keep their towns and cities safe against major infrastructure failures like flooding. Climate change has impacted the water-carrying infrastructure in many ways, through both increased and decreased precipitation, higher sea levels and higher temperatures. Each scenario places significant stress on the current water network assets, which increases the risk of pollution and contamination risking public health and overall safety.


Up until now, there has been a lack of insight into the current state of infrastructure and in order to improve, it requires data that is collected, organized and used in a meaningful way. The current process requires utility crews to physically go into the field to collect the data and manage any issues firsthand, but the emergence of smart technologies advances data collection for climate change mitigation and replaces costly options like statistical gathering and census efforts. However, not all technology solutions are created equal.


When choosing the right technology to implement, districts should look for a solution that offers monitoring, alerting, and secure reporting capabilities. This provides facilities with the necessary tools to improve decision-making and operations.


Building Smarter

Managing infrastructure is traditionally a manual process with field assets in remote places collecting data without the ability to transmit the data, requiring municipalities to send utility crews into the field to collect, transmit and organize the data. To create real improvement in the environment, the data needs to be measured where and when the problem occurs – in the field.

Over the past few years, smart technology has become one of the century's most important – yet most understated – technologies. Put simply, smart technology is the connection of everyday objects to the internet to communicate between people, processes, and things. These devices, like thermostats, kitchen appliances, and even cars, share and collect data with minimal human intervention thanks to low-cost computing, the cloud, big data, and analytics.

Installing smart technology and edge devices that don’t require an internet connection to collect, transmit, and organize data gives utility operators the ability to make better decisions, anticipate problems and downtime for repairs, and plan for the future. The two can cooperate in painting a broader picture of energy and water usage, utility management, waste production, and more. This high-quality, reliable data is the key to unlocking new levels of efficiency and sustainability.


What Smarter Looks Like

Technology and data have never been more accessible. As a result, urban planning has more opportunities than ever to unleash its full potential by investing time and resources into collecting, monitoring, and analyzing data that has never been collected.

  • Data Collection: Data collection and monitoring are critical when modernizing infrastructure to increase organizational flexibility, agility, and resiliency and provide real-time insights into the system. Without proper monitoring, it is impossible to determine when a facility has a problem. Implementing smart edge devices embedded with AI that integrate with the facility’s existing infrastructure is important. This way, all the systems can be tied together in one place, allowing them to be monitored more effectively. For instance, the city of Cincinnati sought to transform its sewer infrastructure from a 19th-century-era system to a smart sewer that could understand how the network operates under wet weather conditions and manage weak points. The collection of real-time flow, level, and precipitation data from remote locations made all the difference in the world; Cincinnati’s now dynamic sewer system can adjust appropriately to weather events based on real-time information.
  • Data Management: A single platform can also manage the data and send alerts regarding any disruptions in the system. Facilities can set up automated alerts for when a triggering event occurs. For example, Cincinnati installed Wavelet sensors to detect water levels and flows, providing remote alerts for potential flooding. Alerts are crucial in understanding how climate change impacts the existing infrastructure and allows facilities to understand better the issues that need to be addressed to reduce further damage and keep the community safe.
  • Data Utilization: An important piece to the puzzle is using the data for reporting and analytics. Monitoring is a continuous process that begins before, during, and after an event; alerting happens as the event unfolds. However, reporting is critical in providing insights and allowing municipalities to better prepare for future climate change-related events. Smart reporting can reveal trends that help facilities to act proactively against imminent weather events.

    This article was published in Mongabay.