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zomer en water
Heatwave management in Rotterdam last summer. (Photo: Jerry Lampen / ANP)

Engineering and Policy Analysis master students apply machine learning to societal problems like heatwave management. They will present their work on 22 August in The Hague.

The talks at the presentation cover a wide range of societal themes, from health and sustainability to energy and urbanism. Dr Bert Enserink, Director of the Engineering and Policy Analysis (EPA) master programme, emphasises the underlying similarities of seemingly disparate disciplines. “We structure and analyse problems,” he said. “And then we apply data science and simulation techniques to these complex systems. To us, water is very much like electricity, and queues at airports are very similar to those in healthcare.”

In one of the presentations, EPA master candidate Mikhail Sirenko deals with handling heatwaves in the city. Last summer, a heatwave even coincided with a failure of the 112 alarm system in some parts of The Netherlands. The incident illustrated the need to strengthen urban resilience and the ability to recover quickly from disasters, and adapt to ongoing urbanisation and climate change. Elderly people in particular prove to be vulnerable in heatwaves. Over the last decade, mortality in that group was 25-40% higher than average during heatwaves.

good neighbourhood
Symbolic representation of a resilient neighbourhood. (Illustration: Mikhail Sirenko)

Sirenko took The Hague, home of the EPA master study for the last two years, as an example. He used open data to identify places with the least social infrastructure (such as libraries), places with little urban green (city centre), and areas with the most frequent ambulance calls (city centre). Areas where these risk factors overlap are the hotspots for heatwaves.

Thus, on the city centre Sirenko writes: ‘Since it is an area of high vulnerability, it requires more focus and attention’. He concludes: ‘This study showed a practical example of how methods of machine learning can help operationalise urban resilience in regard to extreme heat.’

Sirenko is only one of 26 master candidates presenting their work at the EPA thesis conference in The Hague on 22 August. The typical cohort size is 70-80 students per year, says Enserink, but international students tend to be the first to graduate. The rest will follow later. Before the move to The Hague in 2017, there were about half of the present number of students. The Hague, as the international city of peace and justice, appeals to international students. In turn, The Hague reaches out to the EPA students with presentations and excursions.

After graduation, most EPA masters join large consultancy firms from where they advise ministries and municipalities. Some of them go abroad, either to developing countries in Africa or Asia, or back to their home countries. “We get a large share of idealists,” says Enserink. “There seems to be a renewed idealism, people who want to make the world a better place. They want to contribute to the the  grand challenges, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, on which many of our master projects are based as well.”

  • Mikhail Sirenko, Operationalizing Urban Resilience, A Machine Learning Approach, Thesis supervisors Prof. A. Verbraeck, Dr S. Cunningham, Dr Y. Huang, 30 August 2019

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