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Lessons from the Floods: Advancing Disaster Response with AI in Derby

Navigating the Waters: How AI Assistance Proved Crucial During Derby’s Flood Crisis


In times of crisis, delivery of swift support and information to those affected is imperative for local authorities. Derby City Council and Derby Homes’ recent launch of AI assistants, Darcie and Ali, for phone and web support, marks a significant step towards achieving this. The AI assistants serve as the Council and Derby Homes’ “digital front doors” and since their implementation in April 2023, have handled over 180,000 calls.


Derby City Flooding
Source: Derbyshire Live 22.10.23

The recent extreme weather conditions

caused by storm Babet prompted a surge in flood-related queries for the Council and Derby Homes, while the emergency response was under way. This critical situation called for an immediate update to the AI assistants’ welcome messages. This collaboration between Derby City Council and ICS.AI not only provided timely assistance but also generated a valuable data source for improving emergency responses in the future.

The blog post highlights the efforts during this crisis and the lessons learned for future responses.


The Onset of the Crisis


Derbyshire witnessed an extraordinary weather event as storm Babet brought extensive rainfall, causing the river Derwent to rise to a record level of 3.58m. This resulted in three severe flood warnings, highlighting a significant risk to life and property. The city centre experienced substantial flooding, resulting in numerous road closures and disruption to major routes, necessitating the need for an immediate and coordinated response from the local authority and its support systems (read more about the impact to Derby here).


Quick Collaboration and Agility in Action


Recognising the immediate need for updates and reassurance, we quickly assisted Derby City Council to update Darcie and Ali’s welcome messages. Following an emergency meeting on Friday, we adjusted the messaging to guide residents on the quickest way to access sandbags, ensuring immediate direction. By Saturday, Ali’s welcome message was updated for Derby Homes to direct tenants to a newly established emergency response number, ensuring they had a direct line of communication to the right resource without any delay.

The team’s ability to rapidly adapt to the situation was crucial during this crisis. As the situation evolved, influenced by the latest Met Office reports and water level analysis, we seamlessly transitioned the messaging back to provide information on sandbag availability, demonstrating the system’s flexibility.


Diving into the data


During the crisis, Darcie and Ali were asked nearly 300 flooding-related queries through phone calls and website chats. The analysis of the AI assistants revealed various concerns and enquiries from residents:

  • Reports of Flooding: Residents reporting flooding in homes, streets, basements and flats

  • Request for Sandbags: Many reached out requesting sandbags to mitigate flooding and prevent further damage

  • Safety Concerns: Concerns were raised about safety and whether it was safe to return to homes or specific areas due to flooding

  • Evacuation and Compensation: Some sought information on evacuations and compensation for damages by the flooding

  • Public Facilities and Road Closures: Queries came in about the status of public facilities, such as libraries, and updates on road closures to help navigate around affected areas

The messages conveyed a sense of urgency and a clear need for assistance and information regarding the flooding situation and complemented the messaging going out from the Councils other communications channels.


Building for the Future


Darcie and Ali are supported by a 1,000 intent strong AI language model, which aim to learn and evolve. The valuable data collected from the AI assistants during this crisis are invaluable assets, providing a solid foundation for developing a comprehensive emergency response “skill” within the AI, to support future crises.


Andy Brammall, Director of Digital & Physical Infrastructure and Customer Engagement at Derby City Council commented;


"In the wake of the recent emergency flood event in our city, we've received tremendous support from ICS.AI, and we couldn't be more grateful. I'd like to extend a thank you to the entire team for their rapid response and invaluable assistance. By swiftly implementing urgent messaging via our AI assistants, Darcie and Ali, and activating additional resident support channels, the ICS.AI team played a crucial role in enhancing our ability to respond effectively to the challenges facing our residents. Their dedication and swift action allowed us to concentrate on the wider regional response, ensuring that we could provide the necessary support and information to our community when they needed it most”.

Conclusion


The floods in Derbyshire demonstrated the challenges of extreme weather, but also the challenges and opportunity for AI in disaster response. The collaboration between Derby City Council and ICS.AI has shown the potential of AI in crisis situations but has also set the stage for future advancements, providing a robust data set towards the continued evolution of the AI language model that serves Derby residents. This development will ensure that in future emergencies, the AI assistants will be equipped to provide meaningful support, complementing the swift and decisive actions of emergency response teams.


As the city continues its recovery and reflection on the events, this effort stands as a powerful example of how technology and teamwork can come together to support communities and enhance disaster resilience.


Final thoughts


Our thoughts and well-wishes go out to all those who have been impacted by the recent flooding in Derby, and across the UK. The strength and resilience shown by the community are commendable. We are committed to providing ongoing support through technology, contributing to building stronger, more resilient communities for the future. Together, we stand ready to face future challenges, ensuring that every resident has the support and information they need.


 

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