The Damir Čemerin Award ceremony, held at the opening of the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction, brought together (from left) Ivo Goldstein, Ambassador of Croatia in France; Arnaud Brun of winning start-up TENEVIA; Edouard Le Goff of Kinaxia; Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR; Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy; Alix Roumagnac of Predict; and Jonathan Wertel of 3D Eau (Photo: MEDDE-MLETR/B. Suard)
By Jonathan Fowler
PARIS, 7 October 2015 – A French start-up that uses image sensors to monitor water levels in order to head off the threat of flood has today won a pan-European award that recognizes innovative approaches to reducing disaster risk.
TENEVIA, based in the Alpine city of Grenoble, received the Damir Čemerin Award at the opening of the three-day European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction in Paris, which is taking place only days after deadly floods battered southeast France.
“We really want to reinforce the means that communities have to deal with the risks that they face,” said Ms. Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, as she presented the award to Mr. Arnaud Brun, President of TENEVIA.
“Little by little, such steps will help develop a real culture of risk,” Ms. Royal added.
Improving risk knowledge and public awareness are key elements of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year global plan adopted in March this year.
“Innovation, particularly by small and medium enterprise, is essential to disaster risk reduction. Floods represent a major problem in Europe. So the work of companies such as TENEVIA is laudable,” said Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR.
TENEVIA’s system deploys digital surveillance cameras – which have become increasingly sophisticated but also far cheaper over recent years -- along rivers in order to keep tabs on water levels, surface speed and flow. Unlike more traditional monitoring systems such as water gauges, the cameras are not set below the water line.
“The idea came about a decade ago, after there were big floods in France and underwater sensors were washed away, costing millions of euros. So that flood prevention services, whose job was to assess what was happening, found themselves operating in the dark at a key moment,” said Mr. Brun, whose company brings together hydrologists, applied mathematicians, geographers, geo-scientists and business experts.
“The solution that we’ve developed enables users to follow and gather data during flood events, about which we actually have little concrete information precisely at the moment of greatest need. Our goal is to supply unseen information.”
The aim is not just to help predict immediate threats of flooding, but also to gather data over longer periods in order to assist planners in making risk-sensitive decisions, as well as provide insurers with an accurate picture of events.
The monitoring system is currently being used in nearly two dozen locations, most in France but also two in Germany, and TENEVIA, which was founded in 2012, hopes to roll it out across Europe.
In addition to supplying raw data that can be crunched in the authorities’ existing flood analysis systems, the company has also developed web-based applications.
“We really wanted to develop a system that is useful for local communities. It’s a monitoring system. Thanks to imagery, people can really see what’s happening, and become risk-aware. An image speaks a thousand words, and so people wake up to the risks,” said Mr. Brun.
The award is named after Mr. Damir Čemerin, a founder member of the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction, who died in 2013 after long service in support of disaster risk reduction in his home country of Croatia as well as globally.
The runners-up for the award were: 3D Eau, which models potential water flows to help make construction projects more resilient, and hazard-forecasting firms Predict and Preventimmo, both of which have developed smartphone apps to raise risk awareness.