Crowdsourced mobile application to track disasters tested for first time in Fiji

Damage in Fiji caused by the floods of January 2012. Image: AusAID/CC BY 2.0

A crowdsourced mobile application utilizing satellite technology has been used for the first time during an emergency response drill in Fiji.

The geoBingAn app allows individuals to report disasters such as floods, landslides and tsunamis as well as their needs like water, power, shelter, and medicine during emergencies via their smartphone or by text message. The app, which is also available offline, allows communities to share real-time information on vital issues during emergencies such as evacuation plans and shelter capacities. Users can highlight affected areas on a map and add photos of infrastructure damage. GeoBingAn uses OpenStreetMap as the base map to build the disaster information.

The data is then collated to create online “community hazard” satellite maps. The information can be viewed by national authorities and communities on an accessible website connected to geographic information systems (GIS). In addition, upon the request of national disaster management offices, crucial data on disaster affected areas can be acquired through emergency satellite observation. Given that the app utilizes crowdsourced information, it aims to collect information on disasters in a more timely and accurate manner. This information, combined with existing local government maps of vulnerable areas, aims to improve emergency response by national authorities thus saving lives.

The geoBingAn app was introduced for the first time in an emergency response exercise in Fiji on 1 March 2018 by the country’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) during a tsunami drill.

The exercise involved the simultaneous evacuation of nearly 4,000 students and teachers from five schools situated along the country’s Suva coastline. The drill provided disaster management officials with real-time information on a simulated emergency - from the issuance of the public advisory to the safe arrival of people at the evacuation sites. The NDMO said that the exercise was an indication of Fiji’s plans to move towards space-based technology and Information Communication Technology (ICT) to assist in emergencies.

The tsunami drill itself in Fiji was part of a regional project implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Japan entitled “Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia and the Pacific”. As of June 2018, 16 countries in the region have actively engaged in the implementation of the project.

Applying Space-based Technology and Information and Communication Technology to Strengthen Disaster Resilience Programme

The free geoBingAn app, which was designed by the GeoThings technology firm, is the outcome of the regional project, “Applying Space-based Technology and Information and Communication Technology to Strengthen Disaster Resilience Programme”. The project, which is funded by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction and administered by the Asian Development Bank, aims to establish a more information-based disaster risk management through the application of space-based technology and ICT.

The project focuses on four countries that are highly prone to natural hazards and disasters: Armenia, Bangladesh, Fiji and the Philippines. These four countries will act as pilots for the potential wider adoption of these technologies. As highlighted by UNDP, the Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster-prone in the world accounting for nearly half of disasters occurring globally. It says that 70% of all tsunamis ever recorded took place in the Pacific Ocean and its marginal seas.

The project in Fiji aimed to improve the country’s capacity to collect and share reliable data using space-based technology at local government and community levels to strengthen disaster resilience and to support timely post-disaster response, recovery and reconstruction efforts in a cost-effective manner.

The Asian Development Bank says that countries which are vulnerable to natural disasters need more information-based disaster risk management and response tools. In that respect, it says that using space-based technology to provide disaster-related data can help countries improve their resilience in an efficient and sustainable manner.

This article was contributed by Jack Kavanagh, UN Online Volunteer mobilized through www.onlinevolunteering.org.

Publishing Date: 

28/06/2018
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