That CNN resident meteorologist Mari Ramos quoted its findings in the course of reporting on the passage of Typhoon “Glenda” (international name “Rammasun”) indicates that Project Noah (noah.dost.gov.ph) has become an invaluable resource. Here is an initiative that deserves all support and funding, providing as it does vital information intended to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters such as the typhoons that regularly visit the Philippines.
Project Noah (for Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) is a multibillion-peso private-public project developed by the Department of Science and Technology and the University of the Philippines, and whose data are used for forecasting and reportage purposes by the weather bureau Pagasa. It was launched in 2012 and is staffed by a team of scientists who use the latest available technology to warn of, among others, intense rainfall, storm surges, where to seek help, even to whom to report a flash flood.
Through its website, Project Noah provides information of rainfall predictions and maps that detail flooding, giving local government units and even individual citizens valuable advance warning that will allow for proper evacuation ahead of dangerous developments.
To be able to do its job properly, Project Noah relies on combined technology, using weather satellites, Doppler radar stations, unmanned weather posts, rain gauges, stream gauges that track rainfall and river depths, as well as manned ground weather stations needed to verify all this information, according to a report by the Inquirer’s DJ Yap. Information is streamed to the DOST every 10-15 minutes, which enables weather forecasters to survey the affected areas virtually in real time. This creates a buffer of time for the LGUs and their disaster response teams, allowing them to move residents in threatened areas.
Aside from that life-saving advance notice for first responders, Project Noah empowers Filipinos, providing them with accurate and updated information that will enable them to make informed decisions concerning their lives and the weather.
Indeed, Project Noah has saved countless lives because of its early-warning function. The perennially flood-stricken city of Marikina is well aware of how helpful Project Noah can be.
In August 2013, Marikina officials credited it for the city’s zero-casualty rate when the habagat (southwest monsoon) inundated the metropolis. “That’s what Noah gave us—the information to decide judiciously,” Marikina public information officer Paul Sison was then quoted as saying. “Without Noah, you don’t know what to expect.”
Imagine how terrible the loss of life would have been without its input. This is something to be reminded of in seeing how Project Noah helped Pagasa warn the residents of 21 areas in Samar, Quezon, Sorsogon, and Camarines Sur that they could experience storm surges during Glenda’s approach last week. Pagasa was clearly able to stay ahead of the typhoon, issuing accurate storm signals, leading to evacuation in many areas as well as government and private-sector mandates to keep employees and students at home.
This has led to a new chapter in Philippine disaster preparedness, one that moves from mere sloganeering to actual improvements on the ground. Albay has long shown the way; other provinces and cities are following suit. To be sure, the death toll from Glenda is 77 too many, but conventional wisdom is that it could have been worse.
Meanwhile, Project Noah is seeking newer, more cutting-edge technology that would allow it to perform its life-saving function even faster and more efficiently. It has developed an app for Filipinos to tap its data on their cell phones, putting up a mobile version of its website on the various platforms, thus ensuring its availability to those who require urgent information.
The interval between Glenda and Tropical Storm “Matmo” is a good time to be thankful for Project Noah. Amid the outrage over the long-running theft and misuse of public funds, it is worthwhile to remember that Project Noah is the sort of initiative that deserves not only private-sector support but also all the taxpayer money it can get.
This article was originally published in the editorial page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 20, 2014.