BY PIA RANADA
IN THE PATH OF A STORM SURGE. Project NOAH was able to predict a day before Typhoon Yolanda that Tacloban would experience a 4.5-meter (14.7 feet) storm surge. Screen shot from Facebook video of Karl Jake
MANILA, Philippines – A system that will predict storm surge impacts and better prepare coastal communities for them should be ready by December 2014 or earlier.
This was the assurance given by Mahar Lagmay, executive director of Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), in a November 26 talk during Climate Change Consciousness Week.
The Coastal Hazards and Storm Surge Assessment and Mitigation (CHASSAM) is a major component of Project NOAH, one specifically ordered by President Benigno Aquino III earlier this year.
“No less than the President ordered that early this year. He said, ‘I want the [monitoring system on] storm surges because Pedring happened,'” Lagmay told reporters. Pedring devastated northern and central Luzon in September 2011.
“Storm surge,” once a rarely used, esoteric term, made headlines during Yolanda when storm surges as high as 17 feet submerged coastal communinities in Eastern Visayas, notably in Leyte and Samar. Storm surge is a sudden rise in sea level due to strong winds which can cause sudden and devastating floods in lowlying areas. (READ: Knowing storm surge risks)
Project NOAH is the government agency tasked with preventing and mitigating disasters through the use of science and technology. Under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), it works hand-in-hand with state weather bureau PAGASA in forecasting potentially calamitous events like flooding, landslides, sea level rise and more.
LIFE-SAVING SCIENCE. Project NOAH Executive Director Mahar Lagmay says his agency uses technology to predict calamities and prepare communities. All photos by Pia Ranada/Rappler
But when Yolanda hit Eastern Visayas on November 8, the CHASSAM project was only two months old. All it could produce was a prediction of how high the storm surges would be and which localities would be affected.
The complete CHASSAM will not only identify the location of the highest storm surge, but will also provide a high-resolution simulation of 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. (READ: Leyte warned of storm surges)
This is made possible by a technology recently acquired by Project NOAH: Light Detection and Ranging or LIDAR technology. (READ: Climate Change Commission unveils first climate change map)
Used to make high-resolution maps, LIDAR technology beams laser upon an object and analyzes the reflected light in order to measure how far the object is.
With this technology, “we can do enhanced hazard mapping which entails local community scale maps. So when people look at the maps, they can see where their house is, where the bridges are,” Lagmay said.
“It will show them features in their community familiar to them so they can relate to the problem,” he added.
When locals can visualize exactly how the storm surge will hit them, they will gain a better understanding of the urgency of their situation and the need for action.
SIMULATION. Project NOAH made storm surge inundation simulations of Tacloban after Yolanda
But more than a warning system, CHASSAM will also provide life-saving solutions.
By showing areas the storm surge won’t reach, CHASSAM simulations will identify places where it is safe for communities to evacuate to.
Five days after Yolanda, Project NOAH was able to put together high-resolution simulation results of the storm surge impact on Tacloban – a preview of CHASSAM’s capabilities when completed. (READ: Storm surge floods Tacloban)
The simulation was “very accurate,” according to Lagmay, and matched the post-Yolanda photos of Tacloban’s coastlines.
If we had the maps ready before Yolanda, the damage and loss of life could have been prevented or at least lessened, lamented Lagmay.
“We need to act faster in terms of the way we try to improve our preparedness. The maps that we were supposed to do should have been done years ago.” – Rappler.com
This article was originally published in Rappler.com on November 27, 2013.