Tweet to map floods in Jakarta, and help save lives

Jet Damazo-Santos
Tweet to map floods in Jakarta, and help save lives

EPA maps these tweets, allowing the Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency to respond faster

JAKARTA, Indonesia – If it starts flooding in your part of Jakarta, take a photo and tweet about it. Just make sure your smartphone’s location service is turned on, mention @petajkt and use the hashtag #banjir (flood).

Just by doing that, you’ve already done your civic duty to help make life a little better in Indonesia’s capital, and even potentially save lives.

The rest is then up to the people behind the innovative PetaJakarta project officially launched in Jakarta on Tuesday, December 2. The system developed by University of Wollongong researchers will turn all these #banjir tweets into a real-time informative flood map of Jakarta that looks like this:

FLOOD MAP. The map showing the density of flood-related tweets in each district. Image courtesy of

Here’s where the government comes in. The Twitter data mapped by PetaJakarta will be combined with the existing methods used by the Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) to improve flood monitoring and detection. 

“This will enable us to respond faster in flooding situations and help save more lives,”  BPBD Jakarta director Bambang Musyawardana said in a statement sent to media. 

CONTROL ROOM. Mapped flood-related tweets monitored in BPBD Jakarta’s incident control room. Photo courtesy of Tomas Holderness

It’s not just for the government. Other Jakarta residents will benefit as well from the data accessible through

“Should I go this way? Is it flooded? What’s the situation?” These are information people on the ground can find out from their smartphones through PetaJakarta, according to project co-directors Dr Etienne Turpin and Dr Tomas Holderness.

“It’s one system that works for both the people and the government,” Holderness said. 

First of its kind

The project – a three-way collaboration between the SMART Infrastructure Facility of University of Wollongong, BPBD Jakarta, and Twitter – began some 9 months ago when Twitter asked for proposals on big questions that can be tackled with information from public tweets.

‘This will enable us to respond faster in flooding situations and help save more lives’

– BPBD Jakarta director Bambang Musyawardana

With Jakarta being Twitter capital of the world, and thousands of Twitter users complaining about the perennial flooding problem in the capital whenever there is one anyway, it was but logical to find a way to do something with all the data.  

And so 7 months ago, PetaJakarta became one of 6 projects given access to Twitter’s public and historical data – some 8 million tweets related to flooding over the last two monsoon seasons.

PetaJakarta is “an innovative use of social data to address the serious problem of flooding for millions of people,” according to Mark Gillis, who heads academic data partnerships for Twitter.

It doesn’t even have to be just about flooding. If the project works out well, Professor Pascal Perez, the research director of the SMART Infrastructure Facility, said the system can easily be adapted to other kinds of information, like fires and road accidents for example.

Will it work?

The timing of the project launch seems perfect, with Jakarta’s rainy season just beginning. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has in fact warned Jakartans that this season’s floods will peak in January. 

Between now and then, PetaJakarta said it would spam Twitter users in Jakarta – particularly those who have tweeted about banjir before – to inform them about the program. So if you’re one of those, expect to see this video in your Twitter timeline:

But it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult to convince Jakartans to tweet about floods. During the flooding on February 5, PetaJakarta collected more than 150,000 banjir tweets, sent out at an average rate of 100 tweets per minute. 

Still, even if Jakartans fail to do so, Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is mobilizing the heads of all neighborhood units (called Rukun Tetengga or RT) in the capital to tweet flooding information.

There are some 30,000 RT heads throughout Jakarta, and instead of paying them a salary, he plans to incentivize them to tweet.

“For example, in a day they can send a tweet 3 times, and we can give them IDR10,000 (about $0.80) per tweet,” Ahok said.  

It wasn’t clear if all 30,000 RT heads had Internet-connected smartphones they can use to send geotagged tweets, but the governor said Android phones were cheap anyway.

Flooding is one of the recently inaugurated governor’s biggest challenges – as with every other governor of the capital – and several longer-term efforts are underway to address structural causes of the problem, such as normalizing the flow of the Ciliwung River and relocating the people who live there. 

But in the immediate term, PetaJakarta appears to have the potential to make living with Jakarta’s perennial floods easier. – 

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