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Newcastle’s “digital twin” enables virtual disaster planning

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The development of a computer-moderated replica of the whole city is enabling realistic disaster planning.

A new initiative of the Rockerfeller Foundation is creating a partnership between Newcastle University and Nortumbrian Water aiming to fortify the city’s resilience to 21st century challenges such as population growth and climate change. The “digital twin” replica of the city of Newcastle in its entirety will be the first of its kind to enable experts to test the infrastructure’s potential in hypothetical situations including rising sea levels, drought, freak weather events and energy shortages.

The technology has already been used by engine manufacturers such as Rolls Royce and Formula One teams; nevertheless, this initiative is its first use in a large-scale project.  The technology is hoped to enable other cities around the world to face challenges in timely and efficient ways. Known as the Urban Resilience Project, this is a part of a wider project to provide individuals and businesses in 100 countries with a chance to survive, adapt and grow in the face of unexpected disasters.

Commenting the invention, Chris Kilsby, Professor of Hydrology and Climate Change, Newcastle University, said:

“Just having a replica is interesting, but not that useful, but with this, the actual applications could be used in real time in a predictive way, ready to use at the press of a button.”

The “digital twin” could have the potential to boost the city’s resilience in events such as the so-called “Toon Monsoon” anomaly in 2012 when Newcastle saw a month’s worth of rain pouring over just two hours, which caused £8m worth of damage.

Discussing this, Kilsby said that “The Toon Monsoon overwhelmed the drainage in the city because we just don’t design for that sort of event. There’s not someone to blame but the city wasn’t resilient.

“In a situation like that a digital twin of the city would have been very useful.

“It tells us which buildings will be flooded, which infrastructure will be closed down, hospitals that could be affected. It gives us a picture immediately of which areas will be affected,” shared Kilsby.

Chris Jones, research and development manager at Northumbrian Water, pointed at the replica’s “amazing possibilities”, expressing a hope that soon it can be applied to other cities with accessible data.

Last modified: 4th February 2019

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