In the Figure it Out team we dream of a world which in which the enlightened rulers use numbers and logic for the benefit of all. Over the next few weeks we are going to share that dream with you, by giving you some stories about the things that happen in Bigdataland …

The night of November 24th 2012 was a day that George would never forget. He and his wife, Susan, had hired a cottage for the weekend in the countryside – a weekend away from the pressure of work. They had driven up the night before and spent a rather wet day in the local village.  It had been raining heavily since they got up and they eventually decided to call it a day and head back to the cottage.  As they got out of the car at the cottage the rain seemed to have abated slightly.  ”Typical”, muttered George, although he was secretly pleased to be back in time for a glass of wine and Saturday night TV. Over dinner, Susan idly wondered if they were in danger of flooding in this area, whilst George dismissed the thought with a comment that there were no decent-sized rivers around the area.

As they settled down to watch TV, George’s mobile phone rang.   It was a repeating recorded message saying “There is a serious danger of flooding in your area – please be prepared to evacuate”. What was this about? George grabbed his phone and found a website that showed potential flood sites, and indeed their cottage was not only in the middle of a danger zone, but the website was warning of a high alert.

George and Susan made a quick plan to pack their clothes and load the car, just in case. They had no sooner slammed the car boot shut when George’s phone bleeped with a warning that there was a high likelihood that the nearby river would burst its banks within the next 2 hours and that they should leave immediately. The text message that came this time also gave them instructions to move to a suitable shelter nearby – a church hall – that would avoid any threatened bridges.

George and Susan jumped in the car and drove to the hall – Georges Satnav was already programmed to avoid areas that were impassable or dangerous. They arrived less than 30 minutes later.

At the hall, George and Susan found that many others had received similar warning messages, both locals and townies (as they so kindly put it) like him. Susan got talking to the volunteers handing out the tea and found that they were part of a planned civil contingency, just in case this happened.  One of them had their tablet set up as a TV and as George joined her, they watched a boat drift past the cottage where he and Susan had just left.

He just gave silent thanks that he lived in Bigdataland – a place where data was respected…


Does this sound far fetched? Well parts of this are already available in England. For example you can sign up to receive a flood alert when your home is threatened. Some people who live in high risk areas are already automatically signed up to this service. However if you are away from home, you may not know that you are at risk. It is possible that by reviewing data such as phone logs, the authorities can determine who is in the risk areas, and send them appropriate messages, even if they are not local, and have not signed up.

Knowing when to actually issue the alert is also far from an exact science at the moment. The recent case in Italy has shown that current scientific predictions can sometimes go wrong.  Issuing warnings when they are not justified can be almost as dangerous as not issuing a warning at all, due to the resultant panic that can occur.

However big data is providing a solution to the identification and, in some cases, prevention of events like flooding. Indeed by using sources such as social media sites, lots of useful data can be provided such as safe areas and routes as well as collecting a likely list of volunteers (as with the USA Presidential election) and vital resources such as clinics to help in an emergency. This should all enable the emergency services to better cope with the emerging disaster, and also provide human care for those who are affected – even something as simple as a cup of tea.

So this week we learned about how living in Bigdataland possibly saved George’s life. Next week there will be another story about the benefits of living in Bigdataland.