Its precise definition is Advanced Monitoring and Forecasting System, but we will get used to calling it more simply Monitoring System. It will be the “brain” that the MITE (Ministry of Ecological Transition), the Civil Protection and other local and central bodies will use to monitor the state of the Italian territory. In particular to contain the hydrogeological risk, which is always hotly topical. For technology providers it is also a half billion euro business. Budgeted for a project that is expected to be completed by mid-2024.
The Monitoring System will comprise four fundamental components which will almost certainly constitute as many distinct projects. The most relevant part is strictly about monitoring itself. A remote sensing system that uses various data sources, from satellite images to sensors placed directly on the territory. The collected data must be distributed along the nodes of the Monitoring System and this requires a second component: a dedicated telecommunications network, which can be supported by already active backbones. Among other things, the network combines various data analysis and control roomsof the situation. Which constitute the third component, distributed, of the system. Finally, a fourth transversal component: all that is needed to guarantee the cyber security of the infrastructure.
Remote sensing is the heart of environmental monitoring. The PNRR strategy envisages leaving all possible doors open, in terms of data sources to be used. In reality, however, we start from three elements that are already in use at various levels by the Public Administration: satellite observation systems, traditional aerial remote sensing, GIS data from public bodies. Two other forms of monitoring considered are not as proven: drones- and here there is a lot of work to be done, technologically and for regulations – and the sensors placed directly in the areas to be controlled.
One of the key nodes in the implementation of the remote sensing system is that all the data collected must be normalized and made homogeneous. A non-trivial task, considering in particular that the overall project foresees the potential interfacing with… of everything. National and European satellite remote sensing systems, public or commercial. Environmental sensors such as GNSS, meteopluviometric, hydrometric, geotechnical stations. And then networks of surveillance cameras, ground radar systems, license plate readers. And so on, imagining: all detection networks that must be combined together. And, where necessary, upgrade.
The data collected by the various remote sensing systems must be analyzed from various points of view. First of all because they have togive evaluations for various contexts. “Geological and hydrogeological, marine and littoral, agroforestry and urban”, explains MITE. But also because the satellite and aerial surveys are used to arrive at a faithful and detailed representation of the national territory. To be used to model and simulate potential negative events: from floods to landslides, from fires to environmental crimes.
The role of the Monitoring System, in fact, is not only passive (see what is happening) or reactive (respond to events according to the procedures). It is also proactive, for example through projections on climate events or the modeling / simulation of interventions(MITE explicitly speaks of a “terrestrial digital twin”). And for a particularly important chapter: the predictive maintenance of infrastructures entrusted to machine learning, which can process the data collected in the field on land subsidence, landslides, soil moisture, state of vegetation, human action on the territory.
In this the Monitoring System is conceived as a platform on which to place “vertical applications”. There is a common technological “core” connected to targeted services for uses that are not just environmental monitoring. From the architectural point of view, a single data acquisition layer is envisaged that feeds various thematic modules of integration and processing of the data. For now, only a few have been defined, but the architecture of the System is designed from the outset to support any application that derives from the analysis of territorial data.
What are the expected verticals at the moment? The monitoring of hydrogeological instabilityis, as mentioned, the main one. Here old and new sensor networks in the field will be used to follow the movements of the soil and infrastructures, with – it is explained – “a millimeter / centimeter accuracy”. The data collected will also be used for a second vertical: support for emergencies caused by natural disasters. Other targeted applications already defined concern precision agriculture, the analysis of pollution caused by spills into the sea, the detection of environmental offenses in the use of the land, the control of forest fires.
There is essentially a lot to do and there is plenty of room for digital technologies.moreover, the expected realization times are not long. By the end of the year, MITE should complete the analysis of existing information systems to understand what is there and above all what is missing. Various Ministry task forces will then have to work on the technical specifications for the actual calls for tenders, expected in August 2022. Two years later the system should be operational. A goal that could be ambitious, but the benefits for a nation like ours, which has done much less for its territory than it should have, would be truly remarkable.