Google Uses AI to Predict Floods and Warn Users in India

A new collaboration between Google and India's CWC will now provide effective accurate flood predictions to help individuals mitigate the effects of these devastating natural disasters.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Google has been using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to predict everything from flight delays to earthquake aftereffects. In addition, the tech giant's SOS Alerts and Google Public Alerts have been helping people around the world mitigate emergency crises.

So it comes as no surprise to hear that Google has now partnered with India's Central Water Commission (CWC), the country's apex technical organization in the field of Water Resources, to create flood warnings. Floods are devastating natural disasters affecting 250 million people worldwide every year, causing billions of dollars in damages and countless fatalities (20% of which are in India).

Forecasting danger

Effective and accurate flood forecasting has the potential to help individuals and authorities stay safe in these unpredictable crises. Early warnings could give people the information they need to avoid or circumvent the floods' most severe and dangerous areas.

Up to now, warning systems have been unable to provide useful flood alerts leaving victims of these natural disasters unprepared, uninformed and unsupported. Google, in cooperation with CWC, aims to change that.

"Till 2016, CWC was disseminating flood levels with maximum lead time of one day," read the government organization's statement. Thanks to Google's input, that information will now have a three-day head start.

According to the CWC, the Google collaboration will achieve this goal through the use of "artificial intelligence, machine learning, geospatial mapping and analysis of hydrological observation data." The result will be a system that provides "location-targeted, actionable flood warnings."

Predicting emergency severity 

The first alert was sent in the region earlier this month, after a period of heavy rains, and will be now incorporated into Google Public Alerts. "A variety of elements—from historical events, to river level readings, to the terrain and elevation of a specific area—feed into our models," said Google’s engineering VP Yossi Matias in a blog post.

Google AI floods India
Source: Google

"From there, we generate maps and run up to hundreds of thousands of simulations in each location. With this information, we’ve created river flood forecasting models that can more accurately predict not only when and where a flood might occur, but the severity of the event as well," the executive added.


The CWC says the Google-enabled forecasting will be used on a trial basis for the flood season of 2018 and could possibly be upscaled in the near future. The collaboration is expected to save the country money but more importantly successfully mitigate flood-related losses.

In the meantime, Google is hoping to expand their program to more geographical locations extending the reach of the system's potential life-saving impact. "We’re also looking to expand coverage to more countries, to help more people around the world get access to these early warnings, and help keep them informed and safe," concluded Matias.