Marikina: ‘Noah’ helped save lives (Inquirer)

Officials attribute zero loss of lives to on-time info on severe weather

By Kristine Felisse Mangunay

Despite the heavy rains spawned by the “habagat” (southwest monsoon) that fell on Marikina City last week, there were no fatalities unlike in 2009 when Tropical Storm “Ondoy” left scores dead.

One of the primary reasons according to local authorities? Project Noah.

“That’s what Noah gave us. The information to decide judiciously,” Paul Sison, the city’s public information officer, said of the application developed by the Department of Science and Technology to mitigate the effects of heavy rainfall.

The program, which was launched last year in Barangay (village) Nangka, provides on-time warnings on severe weather based on information provided by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and other sources.

According to Sison, the first to be taught to use the program by its developer Mahar Lagmay and is one of several tasked to monitor the application when it rains in the city, the real-time information put together by Noah, which was not available in 2009, was used by the local government to make “better” disaster-mitigation decisions.

Before Noah, for example, Sison said local authorities would have to call the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s Effective Flood Control Operation System (FCOS) to ask for relevant information about the amount of rain in specific areas.

“We’d call (and ask), ‘How much rain is there? How much is the amount of rainfall? Why is the FCOS releasing this amount of water’?” he told the Inquirer.

While the information from FCOS was a big help to local authorities, Sison said the problem was that between the time the first call was made and the next call, “you don’t know what’s happening.”

“Without Noah, you don’t know what to expect,” Sison said.

Kristin Roxas, head of the city’s disaster risk reduction management which also monitors the program, said that Noah enabled local authorities to decide when to evacuate ahead of time.

She added that through Noah, disaster officials were able to predict how much water would fall in the city by looking at the amount of rainfall that would fall in the 26,226-hectare Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape—formerly known as the Marikina Watershed Reservation—during a specific time.

According to Roxas, the rain dumped on the watershed flows down to Marikina City within two to three hours.

“So we were able to evacuate [the residents in low-lying areas in the city] at 10:30 p.m. on Monday since we had monitored earlier that the amount of rainfall that fell in the watershed was 113 millimeters,” she said.

The amount of “on-the-spot” information provided by Noah has made such an impact on the city’s disaster-related operations that even its “once-not-so-active” Twitter account (in Sison’s own words) has become one of the busiest among those handled by local government units in eastern Metro Manila.

In fact, a check by the Inquirer showed that posts related to the heavy rains and the level of the Marikina River last week were made in a span of minutes, sometimes in intervals of just two minutes.

Sison, who heads the Public Information Office that manages the account, said the availability of information was important, especially in times of calamity.

“Information is power. You use it to calm (the people’s) minds,” he added.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on August 27, 2013


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