At Arantec Engineering, we are launching a section on technological updates. In this section, we will meet influential individuals in the specialized technological world, particularly in the environmental sector, infrastructure, IoT, and Smart Cities.
In our first interview, we will get to know Rafael Gálvez, the Civil Protection Manager at the Puente Genil City Council and President of VOST Spain.
Good morning, Rafael. What projects are you currently involved in?
Good morning, Rafael. What projects are you currently involved in?
The Association of Civil Protection Technicians of Andalusia (ATPCA), of which I am currently the vice president, held its General Assembly on August 31st. One of the main items on the agenda was the approval of the new municipal Civil Protection system in Andalusia. This represents a significant quantitative and qualitative leap in technical and professional services, as we are moving towards a more open and transparent communication policy regarding our activities, including risk awareness and citizen participation in our projects and planning.
In this regard, Arantec plays a key role, as one of our policies is to provide information to the public. This is closely related to the ability to communicate any risks, such as river flooding in our case. By simply accessing the website, citizens can view the current state of the river, which provides them with peace of mind.
At least 50% of success in emergency management relies on information. If the public is aware of the risks they are exposed to, has even worked on them, takes self-protection measures, and implements preventive measures, the chances of a regrettable incident during an emergency are greatly reduced.
Arantec ensures peace of mind and direct information to the public. In emergency situations, as we have already experienced in Puente Genil, we have been able to reassure the population by simply displaying a graph on the website showing the river flow decreasing.
Are you the president of the association VOST Spain – Digital Volunteers in Emergencies Teams. What is the objective and purpose of this association?
We, the VOST (Digital Volunteers in Emergencies Teams), are dedicated to detecting hoaxes or misinformation during emergency situations. The VOST technician is an individual specialized in the field of emergency response or communication. In fact, most of them are journalists who are integrated into the emergency structures. Our sole interest is countering hoaxes and providing accurate, reliable, and high-quality information because we understand that hoaxes directly impact the emergency and jeopardize the response operation.
Not only do we fight against hoaxes, but we also amplify the official messages from Civil Protection. In doing so, we support emergency response efforts, assist official accounts, and provide a service to citizens.
In Spain, we have the unfortunate habit of not informing the public about what to do in emergency situations. It is equally important to provide warnings as it is to provide instructions on what to do. This is our current battlefield: to communicate to citizens the tools they need to face such situations.
One of your projects as the Civil Protection manager of Puente Genil is “SmartCity Puente Genil.” What phase is it currently in? What actions have you already taken?
I started working on the project in 2010, during the economic crisis, which undermined many of the ideas and actions we had to make Puente Genil a technology demonstration center, developed with technological experts, with the aim of being a great showcase for technology in emergencies. Unfortunately, the crisis severely hit us and made it difficult to implement this project.
However, we have been able to develop several projects, such as those with Arantec Engineering, but we have high hopes for 2019 to take a step forward and carry out some of the pending actions and improve others.
We have two very clear objectives: sensorization and monitoring. We are moving towards a true Smart City. We want people to walk down the street and see the streetlights turning on and off as they go, providing information to people about moments of high and low traffic flow, applying it to people, traffic, gardens, and everything else, aiming for efficiency and savings.
In the field of Civil Protection, what is the situation in Spain or the sector? Is technology offering significant advancements and reducing vulnerable areas?
We have gone from having absolutely nothing to making a tremendous technological leap. Specifically, in the meteorology sector, we can now anticipate events that are often severe or cause damage to populations.
In the past, the only reference we had was to watch weather diagrams on the news.
However, the challenge we face in the civil protection sector is to create a channel of immediate communication with the population. We have the technology, but we don’t have a way to transmit it to the population. That is the current challenge we face: delivering messages to the population in a timely manner.
For example, in 2009, I identified the problem and designed the SOS channel, which is an information platform for all civil protection services in Europe. We receive alerts and can transmit messages immediately through the 112 channel on terrestrial television. Furthermore, we could provide real-time information 24 hours a day, which could be amplified through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, radio, etc.
From your perspective, why do you think it’s important for cities to invest in Smart Cities and IoT projects? What is the current situation in Spain compared to other countries?
It is an obligation to invest in these projects from many perspectives. First, administrations, associations, and everyone should open their drawers and put them at the service of society. Open Data, Big Data should not only be possessed by a few, but it should be made available to the public because there are people interested in using that data for economic or scientific research, among other purposes.
Another aspect is the cost savings, security, control, and service improvements. In addition to the benefits of Big Data, which generate employment and information, there are other synergies that are currently locked away in drawers and are not producing anything.
Smart City projects in Spain have made significant progress. We are leaders in many sectors. For example, in solar energy, we are at the forefront, and in railway technology, we are pioneers. We have projects in Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the famous Brazil-Peru corridor. Spain has made great strides in technological innovation.
The city of Malaga is a revolution in Smart City development. It has fully embraced this concept, has an impressive team of technicians, and is leading the way in Smart technology on a global level.
The Smarty Planet early warning systems, which you have installed in Puente Genil, how do you think they benefit institutions and society in general?
Societies that have a river, and Puente Genil is an example, used to ignore their river, throwing garbage bags into it, treating it as a dumping ground, it was the least pleasant part of the town. This changed with the introduction of sewage treatment plants in municipalities, which led to the river’s recovery. Additionally, investments such as riverfront promenades have contributed to the revitalization of the area and its beauty.
In Puente Genil, when floods occurred, people would only come to see how the waters rose, but once the floods receded, they would forget about the river.
Last winter, we had many days of continuous rain, and there was a moderate increase in the river’s water level. Once again, the river was filled with people. However, Arantec came into the picture. The townspeople discovered that there was also a meteorological station in Puente Genil, equipped with a camera that provided real-time images of the river. They could also access graphs and other information on the platform. With this information and our social media outreach, we were able to reassure and provide a service to the community by simply showing the descending flow graphs of the river from Arantec.
What future challenges await the Smart City sector in Spain in the coming years, as well as its cities?
In the case of elderly people and children, the full potential of what could be implemented has not yet been developed. In terms of accident prevention to avoid drowning, the same applies to elderly individuals. It would be like being able to save lives with a click.