A UK-Vietnam research team - funded by the Newton Fund Institutional Links and Research Environment Links programmes delivered by the British Council - is tackling the challenge of maintaining communication systems that can cope with large-scale disaster scenarios in developing countries.
Vietnam is among the ten countries most affected by natural disasters and extreme climate events globally (Climate Risk Index 2017), and 70 percent of the country’s population is at risk from natural disasters, particularly the rural and urban poor.
The physical destruction caused in Vietnam by various disasters such as floods, typhoons and storms to communication and power supply networks exacerbates the resulting destruction and loss of life.
Short-term solutions for communication under such hostile conditions are available, but face limitations in terms of coverage and connectivity so cannot be utilised in disaster-prone countries with isolated rural areas. As such, it is vital to develop a wireless system that can cope with large-scale disaster scenarios in developing countries.
Led by Professor Trung Q. Duong at Queen’s University Belfast, the research team is carrying out research into cost-effective solutions to tackle the challenge of maintaining communications under extreme conditions.
In collaboration with Vietnamese partners at Duy Tan University, Nong Lam University, and Thuyloi University, the team proposed an integrated heterogeneous wireless system (IHWS) that could overcome communications failures such as network congestion resulting from telecommunications networks severely damaged by natural disasters.
In Central Vietnam, the system was implemented in two closely located areas, Quang Nam Province and Da Nang City, with populations vulnerable to natural disasters and rapid urbanisation.
The wireless system was utilised in the tracking, alerting and measuring of floods, storms and landslides by sensing environmental quality levels, transmitting the collected data to the centre and delivering indicators on the web portal. The information collected through this process would allow the authorities to make better informed life-saving decisions.
The wireless system, to be maintained at low cost, was integrated by conventional wireless sensor networks with device-to-device and mobile cellular networks.
Another special feature of this research was an innovative unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) approach using drones. This new communications mechanism was a key component to maintain the communications in disaster scenarios, remaining airborne above the affected areas, and acting as a flying base station to maintain connectivity.
To ensure that the tools can truly make a difference in emergency situations, for example when networks being congested, buildings having been destroyed, and power supply being cut off, new optimal algorithms were also developed and integrated with the drones to help first responders assess the situation as quickly as possible.
The wireless system has been highly appreciated by Vietnamese government, and as a result has received extra funding from Ministry of Science and Technology in installing 25 early warning stations in Quang Nam. The systems are now under management of one of the Vietnamese partners.
All of these Institutional Links and Research Environment Links programmes also involved capacity building for Vietnamese researchers - more than 1,000 staff and students from many universities in Vietnam have been trained in the system. Several leading telecommunication companies showed interest in bringing it into production.
The team also worked closely with the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority, local governments and communities to implement the project and the concept has been incorporated into the Vietnam national disaster response plans.
As the UK lead partner in all programmes, Prof Trung Q. Duong contributed to the process from inception of the partnerships to implementation of the systems, and was awarded the Newton Prize 2017 in recognition of the impact of this research. Most recently, Prof Duong was awarded the prestigious five-year Research Chair from the Royal Academy of Engineering to study mission-critical communications of 6G.