How does Project NOAH contribute to PH's disaster management?

MANILA, Philippines - Netizens and disaster risk reduction (DRR) advocates were shocked on Sunday evening, January 29, as Mahar Lagmay, the executive director of Project NOAH announced the government will scrap the program due to “lack of funds” for it. (READ: Gov't to stop Project NOAH due to 'lack of funds')

Established in 2012, the country’s flagship disaster prevention and mitigation program, is slated to run only until February 28 because their request for an extension was not approved.

Project NOAH maintains a disaster management platform that provides data available for everyone to use.

What other services can Project NOAH provide Filipinos with? Here’s what you need to know.

1. It gives timely storm surge advisories in affected localities.

TIMELY. A sample storm surge hazard map in Gumaca, Quezon during Typhoon Nina (Nockten) in 2016. Screenshot from Project NOAH's official blog site

TIMELY. A sample storm surge hazard map in Gumaca, Quezon during Typhoon Nina (Nockten) in 2016.

Screenshot from Project NOAH's official blog site

The public has only become more aware of storm surges following the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013 in coastal provinces.

A year after, Project NOAH was able to to create a storm surge warning system that identifies the parts of a community which will be reached by a storm surge during typhoons.

It provides advisories to specific coastal communities depending on the predicted height of storm surges in affected localities, which will be among the basis for evacuation of local government units (LGUs).

Project NOAH's maps are different in that they are "scenario maps," which simulate what can happen given a hazard level.

The storm surge advisories of Project NOAH – and the corresponding maps it produces – depend on the current typhoon that is affecting a certain area. The maps also simulate the inundation of localities. Anyone using the technology will see exactly which areas in their community will be reached by the storm surge and how deep the floods will be.

This gives the public and LGUs a clear view of what to expect when storm surges are projected to affect their area.

The advisories, which would be posted on the project's official blog site, had already been used during previous typhoons.

Daram in Samar for example, weathered Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) in 2014 as a result of timely and specific information provided by the local government.

It is one of the coastal communities identified by Project NOAH in its list of areas where the forecast storm surges were expected to be highest – between 2.6 to 3.6 meters for that particular typhoon.

Internet access allowed the town's disaster management office to monitor updates on rainfall and wind speed from state weather bureau Pagasa, and storm surge alerts from Project NOAH, which were released two days before the typhoon struck.

A 2016 entry in Project NOAH's official blog site said that "given the timely storm surge warnings, residents of Bicol, Southern Luzon, and Western Visayas had time to take precautionary measures against possible storm surge," during Typhoon Ruby.

2. It has produced barangay-level hazard maps.

DETAILED HAZARD MAPS. A screen shot of a sample storm surge hazard map from Project NOAH.

DETAILED HAZARD MAPS. A screen shot of a sample storm surge hazard map from Project NOAH.

While other scientific agencies, like Pagasa, have produced their own hazard maps, Project NOAH’s hazard maps for storm surges, floods, and landslides can be drilled down to a barangay level of specificity. These hazard maps also show which areas are safe for evacuation.

With its color-coded and detailed hazard maps, disaster officials would also be aware of which areas were safe or unsafe for relocation sites.

In a 2015 press con on the launch of its revamped platform, Lagmay said “no other country has that kind of mapping product on a nationwide scale," giving the project "enough reason to relaunch the website.”

In fact, these are the official maps to be used for the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts of disaster-hit areas. Specifically, maps used in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in 171 municipalities affected by Typhoon Yolanda were also from Project NOAH.

3. It provides near real-time weather information.

Project NOAH’s website allows users to see the near real-time and most recent weather situation in the country.

For example, depending on the colors, it shows the amount of rainfall experienced in different parts of the country in the past one, 3, 6, 12, or 24 hours, including its intensity. It can also show the amount of rainfall that is to be expected in specific areas. These tools aid LGUs and the public in monitoring for possible flooding.

“This has been successful for habagat in 2012 in Marikina, habagat in 2013, habagat in 2014. Cagayan de Oro was swept up to seven meters but they were warned 3 hours in advance because of that,” Lagmay explained in a previous interview with Rappler.

4. It has created apps and tools that make disaster preparation easier.

In 2015, Project NOAH relaunched two of its improved apps - Arko and WebSAFE.

Arko, an android and iOS mobile app, gives the user up-to-the-minute updates on rainfall and other weather conditions. In an instant, the app can generate flood hazard maps within a 2.5-kilometer radius from one's location. It now has storm surge and landslide hazard maps too.

IMPACT ASSESSMENT. The improved WebSafe tool on the Project Noah website estimates the number of people and buildings that maybe affected by a particular hazard. Screengrab from Project Noah website

IMPACT ASSESSMENT. The improved WebSafe tool on the Project Noah website estimates the number of people and buildings that maybe affected by a particular hazard.

Screengrab from Project Noah website

WebSAFE, on the other hand, is an impact-assessment tool that can calculate the number of people and buildings that may be affected by certain hazards in a particular area. This allows LGUs to allocate resources and better approximate and plan for the minimum needs of affected individuals.

In the past years, Project NOAH has bagged various awards for its excellence. In 2015, Arko became a finalist in UN-based World Summit Award Mobile (WSA-mobile).

Also in the same year, the European Geosciences Union awarded the Plinius Medal to Lagmay, for his outstanding work on volcanic hazards, earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, and floods.

In 2016, IDC Asia Pacific named Project NOAH as the Top Smart City Initiative in Public Safety.

Appeals for extension

DRR officials and netizens alike took to social media to appeal to the government for an extension of Project NOAH. (READ: Disaster responders urge Duterte to #SaveProjectNOAH)

On Sunday, January 29, Ted Esguerra, Wilderness Search And Rescue founder, used his Facebook account to ask the public to rally with him to retain the program, saying: If you do not know it, the rescuers could make it through the flood, landslides and other hazards because we have guidance from Project NOAH as to the hazard maps.

RL Abainza, a University of the Philippines geology student, also expressed his thoughts on the issue in an entry via Rappler’s free self-publishing platform, X, entitled, 'We, the Philippines, need Project NOAH.'

“With the end goal of mapping the different hazards in the Philippines, the [Project NOAH] shall not be halted because, as we learned in our geology classes, the surface of the earth is constantly changing. This fact implies that the maps of today will really change in the future," Abainza said.

Lagmay also said that the Duterte administration should not be blamed for the scrapping of the project, saying that mid-level government officials under the Aquino administration had been telling them that there are no more funds for Project NOAH. 

In a press statement on Monday, January 30, the Department of Science and Technology said that state weather bureau Pagasa will take over the operations of the project once it ends on February 28. – Rappler.com