Over the past weekend, as the rain poured non-stop in torrents across Malaysia, floodwaters began rising dangerously. On Sunday afternoon, water had exceeded dangerous levels in 6 states.
By then, local dronetech company Aerodyne had already leapt into action. The very first thing the company did was deploy assistance to its own team members, of whom about 20 were affected by the flood. Aerodyne helped them escape and found lodgings for them.
Trivia: In its early days (circa 2014), what shot Aerodyne into the limelight was its quick deployment of its drones to capture information and footage of the worst monsoon floods Malaysia had seen in decades. This data was later shared with the public, government agencies, and mainstream media at no cost.
Next, it moved to volunteer by reaching out to the relevant authorities to see where the team’s support was needed.
For the past week, it’s since been aiding government agencies with search and rescue efforts in Selangor via the deployment of tactical drones.
Other than collecting critical information like the directional water flow, its drones have also identified, reached, and rescued stranded flood victims.
From there, the team utilised the collected data to develop effective evacuation plans and rescue routes, particularly in hard-hit areas.
These dronetech-powered relief efforts are happening round the clock, rain or shine, night or day. As of now, these efforts will continue for the foreseeable future, even past the rescue phase into the recovery and rebuilding phases.
Vulcan Post spoke to Aerodyne CEO Kamarul to learn more about how the team is navigating these rescue efforts, and what can be done with the help of dronetech to strengthen Malaysia’s disaster detection infrastructure.
Navigating a state-wide drone rollout
Though Malaysia’s regulations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming more welcoming, there are still strict approval processes in place to ensure a safe airspace.
This is crucial since the airspace is shared by many other aerial vehicles like helicopters and planes, so careful coordination has to be done to avoid jeopardy.
Kamarul noted that the Selangor government was able to execute this well, allowing a coordinated drone rollout not just for Aerodyne, but for other dronetech players as well such as VStream, Alphaswift Industries, and Meraque Services, to name a few.
As Aerodyne was already working with Selangor on other projects prior to this, they had an existing data-sharing platform that could be utilised for flood data too.
All these factors enabled the dronetech players to play their parts well in the relief efforts, but there’s still work that needs to be done.
What we mean by that is not so much on cleaning up the aftermath, but instead on the prevention of such disasters even reoccurring in the future.
We could have done better, earlier
In a recent Facebook post, Kamarul stated that there were key weaknesses in Malaysia’s early warning and emergency response system.
Being well-travelled, he drew upon his experiences in other countries like Japan for some examples of efficient systems.
He explained, “Japan has a very good early detection or warning system from using sensors, meteorological data, and more.”
Of course, Malaysia has its own departments like MET Malaysia who use meteorological data to predict weather and natural disasters. Aerodyne itself has access to accurate meteorological data too, and has a predictive analytics model for rain and other phenomena.
But the difference lies in how well all this collected data is communicated to citizens. Though MET Malaysia is active in issuing warnings, these warnings aren’t further amplified by the government on a more personal level.
In contrast, Kamarul said, “In Japan, if there is any tsunami warning, all the citizens will get notified already, either by siren or even SMS.”
Such communication can be the deciding factor between life and death. The death of 37 flood victims (at the time of writing) could’ve been prevented had these systems been in place.
Beyond lives, homes and other assets could’ve been saved early on too, if the citizens were given time to evacuate with adequate warning.
Doing something with the data we have
At the end of the day, however, what’s done has been done, and the ball is in the court of responsible authorities who must now re-evaluate what went wrong, and take proper action to prevent a repeat.
Other than search and rescue, drones can also be used for damage assessment in natural disasters. Kamarul told Vulcan Post, “We can do a lot of assessment, you know, like why the water didn’t recede, where does it come from?”
Data from the drones can also be used to map high-risk areas and do flood simulations for better drainage planning, for example.
If not for building new and better systems to mitigate natural disasters, then at the very least, for the improvement and maintenance of existing infrastructure.
There’s no excuse for government agencies to not make use of these life-saving data after this tragedy as they’re already available, provided pro bono by companies like Aerodyne.
As Kamarul also noted, it’s been heartening to see our Malaysian community rally and mobilise support so quickly for flood victims.
We’ve shown fierce love and care for our fellow rakyat, no matter the costs or the risks to ourselves. (Though if you are actively volunteering in flooded areas, please do practice good self-safety too such as wearing proper protective gear and getting the necessary jabs against diseases the floodwaters may carry.)
But the fact of the matter is that all this could have been prevented. It shouldn’t have had to reach this point where we now have to respond to the aftermath of a tragedy.
Lives have already been lost, assets have been damaged, people have been displaced, and some are still missing. There is a long way to go for Malaysia to heal from this, and the persistence of COVID-19 is not making our lives any easier too.
I’m sure many would agree with me that there should not have to be a “next time” before we do better in preventing such tragedies. Again, we already have the technology and the data thanks to dronetech and other industry players.
We just need to have the intention to improve things. On a smaller scale, those of us who have the means to help in various forms can refer to our flood relief fundraiser and volunteering list here.
Featured Image Credit: Aerodyne