Data sharing platform can help communities locate, map flooded areas during disasters

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Data sharing platform can help communities locate, map flooded areas during disasters
Screengrab from Youtube shows Mapakalamidad.ph.
Mapakalamidad PH

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s rainy season—characterized by the occurrence of thunderstorms, increased monsoon rains and regular tropical cyclones—usually begins in June. 

And heavy rainfall and more powerful storms could mean more flooding, which can paralyze roads and leave people stranded. 

Aiming to empower citizens to report hazards at their fingertips and provide them access to critical information, Indonesia-based Yayasan Peta Bencana (Disaster Map Foundation) developed Mapakalamidad.ph. It is a free web-based platform that provides crowd-sourced and up-to-date flood information using the power of digital maps and social media. 

“Flooding has been a part of our daily lives as Filipinos. But because of compounding factors such as climate change, we are experiencing flooding in very erratic ways,” Ferth Vandesteen Manaysay, project and partnerships manager of MapaKalamidad.ph, told Philstar.com.

“It’s hard for us to prepare for floods in the same way that we’ve done before. But at least what we can do is to ascertain that everyone is equipped with the information they need to make decisions about planning, safety and response,” he added. 

There is a similar platform in Indonesia called PetaBencana.id, which Yayasan Peta Bencana also developed. The team behind MapaKalamidad.ph aims to replicate the success of the tool in the Philippines. 

MapaKalamidad.ph is part of an initiative supported by the US Agency for International Development's USAID DisasterAWARE Program for ASEAN Regional and National Capacity Development for Hazard Monitoring. 

How can people report?

Twitter users can report real-time updates about floods by tweeting the keyword “baha” (flood) to @mapakalamidad. People can also send a Facebook message to @mapakalamidad or send a Telegram message to @kalamidadbot.

Users are sent unique links, which allow them to submit situational updates. They will be asked to input location, flood height and descriptions, and add photos.

The platform filters through reports by engaging in Artificial Intelligence-assisted conversations with residents on the ground through humanitarian chat bots.

Flood reports are immediately added to the map and stay active for only two hours to ensure it will display real-time information. Then, users will receive links to their reports on the map, with the option to share the information on social media. 

Local governments play a role in validating reports sent by users. Once they see the reports, they can check and verify them on the ground.

Manaysay also said the platform works using the law of averages, “which means that if you can see a lot of reports, that means that area is flooded.”

“MapaKalamidad.ph is one way to transform the noise that we see on social media into actionable information and democratize decision support tools so that everyone can make safety decisions and coordinate both individual and collective responses to support climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction,” Manaysay said. 

Help to gov't agencies, responders

The tool also aims to support local disaster managers in identifying areas that need immediate response and rescue efforts by visualizing data in real time.

“MapaKalamidad.ph has a potential to support emergency planning by helping authorities coordinate and anticipate the changes in the situation on the ground,” Manaysay said.  

“Providing free access to time-critical information through a transparent two-way communication platform also fosters equitable and collaborative resilience to disasters, especially in light of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. 

Widening the reach

Currently, MapaKalamidad.ph is limited to flood reports unlike its Indonesian counterpart which maps earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fire, strong winds, and haze. To be fair, PetaBencana.id was launched in 2013.

Since its launch in September last year, the platform has so far received 100 reports as the typhoons that hit the country over the past few months have largely spared its pilot areas in Quezon City and Pampanga. During the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses, the platform coordinated and transmitted crowdsourced information to its partners in the two areas.

To allow more people to participate in disaster risk and reduction response, the team targets to scale the platform nationally this year.

“In line with this map expansion, as a means by which to sustain the outreach of scaling efforts, encourage crowd-sourced disaster information and increase accessibility to critical information at a national level, we will also be developing gamified humanitarian awareness and disaster preparedness tools,” Manaysay said.

It will also train organizations and individuals nationwide who will serve as certified reporters of MapaKalamidad.ph.

The platform may also map other types of hazards in the future. 



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