Research to expand the reach of flood warning systems
As climate change increases the frequency and severity of natural disasters like floods, lower-income countries - especially poor and marginalized communities - are typically the most at risk. Early warning systems (EWS) for floods can reduce fatalities, mitigate economic losses, and accelerate post-flood recovery – but the effectiveness of EWS is limited due to lack of infrastructure and scant evidence on how best to relay flood alerts at scale. In 2019, Google piloted a new Android-based flood forecasting and alert system in Bihar, a poor state in eastern India. But while the system’s flood predictions are highly accurate and can send alerts up to 24 hours in advance, many of Bihar’s most vulnerable citizens do not own smartphones.
Preliminary evidence suggests that flood alerts provided by Google, but delivered by trusted on-the-ground volunteers, spurred low-cost avoidance behaviors that reduced the adverse impacts of local flooding.
In a collaboration with Google.org, researchers from Inclusion Economics at Yale University, Inclusion Economics India Centre, and the University of Colorado are experimenting with innovative efforts to increase use of this cutting-edge flood EWS in Bihar. The project, currently in implementation, trains grassroots volunteers in community outreach techniques and how to view and use Google's flood forecasting and alert system on Android phones. By generating new insights on how best to encourage flood avoidance behaviors over a set of highly-variable flood seasons, the research will offer important lessons for responding to the environmental consequences of climate change. It is also expected to inform future EWS design and implementation, as Google and its other partners scale their system to reach more than 500 million people in South and Southeast Asia in the coming years.