The large urban sprawl of Bangkok is home to 9 million people and cars. The city is one of ASEAN’s fastest growing and by 2020 it is expected to host another 2 million people. As it expands, urban challenges stress city resources, infrastructure and funding.

Dr. Supachai Tantikom, the Chief Resilience Officer of Bangkok is tasked with a monumental role – to build Bangkok’s resilience and ensure its continued prosperity. The key is to keep rethinking, he says. “The resilience is just lowering and keeps lowering on; a project you see today, it may be outdated in half a year.”

Infamous traffic congestion and deteriorating air quality are just two of the challenges he must address. GovInsider caught up with Tantikom to learn how Bangkok is using data to take these on.

Connecting data

Data in Bangkok is not centralised, says Tantikom. For example, there are currently 50,000 CCTV cameras across the city but most are not centrally linked. Some cameras are linked to the control room but are only used for oversight, while other cameras are recorded at the post and deleted after two weeks if there are no requests for the footage, he explains. “It’s quite a lot of video, [but] so far there’s no management of the big data,” Tantikom adds.

A connected data centre can help collect and analyse data to make informed policy decisions, he explains. In the future, Tantikom hopes data can be collated and analysed in the city through such centres. A proper geospatial map, Tantikom says, is the first step to the solution – “If you have a GIS map, you have the proper data of the population around the area and then you can have a layer of infrastructure [on the] map, you can see people move – they travel to a certain location,” he explains.

With integrated big data, the city can respond in real-time to congestion in the city. In the Chinese city of Hangzhou, CCTV cameras feed data to an AI hub that controls traffic lights at 128 intersections and helps officials make better decisions at a faster rate.

Building awareness

As the city urbanises and rapidly grows, the air quality in Bangkok is worsening. Air pollution-related deaths in Thailand have risen nearly 20,000 in the past 20 years, the World Bank reported.

The city already has several pollution monitoring websites but information dissemination to the public isn’t done well, says Tantikom. Bangkok residents rarely check these sites. “Only the reporter reports the quality of the air pollution; otherwise, they don’t care much,” he adds.

The environment department in the city is looking to better monitor air pollution, collect, analyse and distribute data to the citizens effectively. The goal is to notify citizens about air quality in districts across the city and advise them to avoid those areas or take precautions. The project will build on the existing infrastructure already in place. “We don’t want to rewrite or implement an app, we just want to use the existing technology,” Tantikom explains.

Adapting to change

Rising sea levels are expected to potentially submerge parts of Bangkok in just a decade, reports the Straits Times. Bangkok is building walls and dykes along the river to manage floods, but major floods in 2011 showed that the flood management infrastructure needs an upgrade. “The big floods were proof that our operating plan does not work 100%”,” he adds. The World Bank estimated that economic damages from the 2011 floods amount to 47.5 billion USD.

Tantikom explains that when Bangkok’s flood management infrastructure was built around two decades ago, the city wasn’t as urbanised as it is today. “During that time, the city outside Bangkok is not developed but right now, Bangkok is becoming urban already. So I think the plan needs to be revised,” he says.

The city is looking to develop a water management plan for the future, starting with a detailed study project of the Chao Phraya basin. “Because we have to spend a lot of money on the infrastructure, it is time we sit down and review all what we have and what we should do,” he adds.

Even as the city battles rapid urbanisation and its own infrastructure ageing – the clock ticks against the city. “For the city to have a better resilience, it takes time – probably a long time, you cannot see immediately,” Tantikom says.

Resilience building is a never-ending crusade – using data, informing citizens and rethinking strategies are crucial weapons in this battle.