Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When ICT Meets Disaster Science

In these trying times, no one is safe from nature’s wrath. In case anyone forgets this fact, week after week of typhoon and other natural calamities plague our archipelago. A joint study by Columbia University and the World Bank entitled ‘Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis’, which identifies countries which are at high risk for six major natural hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, floods, drought, and cyclones, has the Philippines pegged as one of riskiest countries in the world. But in spite of being a disaster hotspot, our level of preparedness falls way below laughable.

Just like the rest of government policies in general, the disaster risk management in this country is responsive at best. The National Disaster and Risk Management Council can deny it all day but affected citizens know better. The focus is usually on the typhoon’s aftermath notably without any concrete and more sustainable national plan. But as we all know, relief efforts can only do so much on a rainy day. No matter how resilient Filipinos are, we can only take so much Ondoy and Pedring in a lifetime.

Yes, typhoons and disasters and stuffs are all bleak news. It’s a good thing though that some ICT efforts in both private and public agencies help mitigate the tragedies of living in this disaster-infested nation of ours. In light of the recent string of typhoons which battered the country, we can rely on Technology (with a capital T) to give us ‘good practices’ in disaster science:

ICT-led research capacity and online information drive

PAG-ASA’s 5-day weather outlook is a significant development in disaster science because of two points: (1) it shows that PAG-ASA has upgraded and has now the capacity to forecast like a real weather forecasting station (finally!) and (2) it identifies the weather in the top five tourist spots in the country in order to ward off unknowing (certainly unplugged) tourists to wander in these areas during times of calamity. While the tourism angle is not really disaster science related, the fact that it spawned a more comprehensive approach to weather forecasting is a welcome improvement any time of the day. Then of course there are the ever spamming social networking accounts of agencies like the NDRRMC and DOST-PAGASA to teach you what a storm surge is in 140 characters or less. As to research development, the Congress is slowly recognizing the importance of the role of ICT in disaster science. The Congressional Commission on Science Technology and Engineering (COMSTE) recently paired up with the Manila Observatory in planning and developing the Disaster Science Management Center (DSMC) which demands for an ICT-led disaster science in the Philippines.

ICT in Calamity Response

We all have heard of the GSIS Wireless Automated Process System (G-WAPS) which hastened the processing of calamity loan applications. Having waded waist high flood water in order to get a calamity loan for rebuilding lost hopes and dreams, it is definitely easier to negotiate with a computer station in the nearest city hall than to a disgruntled government employee. Just recently, there is also the E-Donation Management System (DSWD) which partnered with telecommunication companies in order to implement a donation system via short messaging service. The online call for relief operation volunteers also yield an unusually higher turnout compared to when it was traditionally done over the tri-media. Surprisingly, the ordinary netizen finds it harder to turn a blind eye to DSWD’s tweetspams in the timelines. These aside from the efforts coming from the private sector which utilize ICT in order to encourage donations and coordinate relief operations among its volunteers. Gotta love ICT!

ICT in calamity analysis

The license to operate the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology was recently handed over to the NDRRMC through a A$6.5-million (P260-million) grant from the Australian Agency for International Development. The technology would produce 3D maps and data that can analyze the possible effects of natural disasters such as earthquake, flood and severe wind to help LGUs most affected by the disasters to invest on necessary infrastructure and prepare for natural disasters in the future.

In sum, ICT plays a huge role in every aspect of disaster science: from research capacity building and development of early warning systems down to disaster relief and mitigation.

ICT has responded to the call. The remaining challenge is left to the government to consolidate and institutionalize these efforts in order to provide a more streamlined calamity response system. The bad news is that the Philippines is a disaster-infested rut. The good news is that ICT exists in our islands. As to what the Government will do to harness it, let’s all hope that it will come before another September Super Typhoon.

So long Law and ICT class! /enter nostalgia here/

Regine Tenorio. 16th entry.

Other entries throughout the semester: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

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