Ushahidi Disaster Maps Philippines

In case anyone finds this useful (e.g. there’s geo data on these maps that could be reused), here’s the list of disaster-related Ushahidi instances I’ve found for the Philippines:

I suspect we’ll be needing the Tacloban datasets and the flood maps again.

Ruby Day 4: Brck at dawn

Celina texts me at 5:30am… we were talking yesterday about doing a dawn photoshoot for the Brck on the hotel roof (great view of volcano, dawn) and somehow despite being really tired last night (and ordering an 8am breakfast call) we’re both up and wandering around the top floor looking for the door to the roof.  The brck poses well – it’s balanced on the safety wall, so between shots we grab it just in case (it’s the only one in the country).  We go off for a long tricycle ride (he’s trying to sell us a hotel room) that ends at a breakfast place right next to the hotel.

There’ve been strong gusts of wind over the past few days (the sort that sounds like a small train passing) and there’s a bit of wind in the trees, but nothing to suggest a typhoon approaching. It’s rained a few times in the past few days too, a couple of times heavily, but that’s it. We don’t even have the multicolored “red sky in morning, shepherd take warning” dawn – it’s a gentle fade from grey into day. People seem a little bit on edge, but that’s it.

Today, mapping. I’ve been added to 5 different chats overnight, and I take a moment to work out which group each is from (I edit one title to make it clearer) and how they all link together.  I crawl through each chat looking for links that could be helpful to all of them, and dump them into the Skypechat of a volunteer who’s going to put them in an online page… this sounds unwieldy, but when the wifi gets messy Skype is the last online app standing, and this is a way to make sure notes don’t get lost by a dropped Googledoc link etc.  Ruby is looking messier today – there are storm surge (tsunami) estimates of up to 12 metres on the East coast, and it’s tracking up into the southern part of Manila, where I saw tin roof slums and tents near the waterline as I drove through yesterday.

There are some very specific needs posted in the chats… a mapping tool to give each municipality a local map with all their boundaries and infrastructure points marked on it, a 3W for the volunteers to keep track of each others’ work, and some license issues (and, in truth, veracity issues) with municipal boundary shapefiles.  I do a bit on each of these, and keep an eye on the other preparation work going on (the OSM team working out which areas to prioritize etc). Somehow a bunch of mappers from the Yolanda response just happen to be in the Philippines this week, which is making coordination between remote and local mappers (who are here, strong and leading) much much easier.

We bridge the local and remote in-person too… there are about 100 people at this event, and many are worried about their flights out.  One of the remote teams checks airport boards, FlightAware and NOTAMS to reassure them. My teammates have checked themselves into a hotel and are busy checking with the disaster people here on what they need to do (no cliff walks, but there are less obvious things like keeping your phones and laptops charged): they’re sensible peeps and seem to have all the bases they need well covered.

I check in on some of the chats (the EU is waking up now), make a list of all the disaster-related Ushahidi instances in the Philippines, and collapse in a heap on the sofa. It’s 7pm, and I think we’re going to have a very long week (during which I still have a dayjob to do).

Ruby Day 3: OpenStreetMap’s birthday party

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I couldn’t persuade any taxis to come out here for an early-morning pickup, so up at 5:30am to catch the 6am bus to Manila.  Well, buses: the first one breaks down, and I’m given enough money back from my ticket to find another bus to Manila. The other passengers wave one down, and I put myself back in the hands of the transport gods. Bus 3 is from Manila’s main bus terminal, a rundown old mall on the waterside. Most transport comes through there, and it already looks packed to capacity. 4 hours after I start, I get to the event: the last bus drops me in the middle of traffic (literally: 3 lanes to cross to get to safety) but the first car I see is an empty taxi – the transport gods have been good to me today.

Celina rocks the crowd at the OSM event (nobody leaves, which in Manila is its own form of applause); she also does the first hakuna-matata-style waving a Brck in the air to happen in the Philippines (she is beyond excited at having one; I’m beyond patience at trying to get a local data sim card to work for it). I talk about Ushahidi – I’ve carefully pitched my slides away from disaster response (and more towards civic community), but again everyone here is obsessed with disaster (and, to be fair, traffic).  I get some quality geek time with the SkyEye (local UAV company) team, and look over their fixed-wing foam UAV (1-1.5 hours flight time at 3 m/s, good range and flies in decent winds). They’re great guys: we talk about drones, and camera types (they’re working on a low-cost multispectral camera, which is a seriously big deal for checking environment etc) and public laboratory’s work on sensors.

Ruby has become real: she’s now a cat-5 typhoon (real bad) heading straight for the islands.  Lots of people are fitting the camp in-between the many meetings that come with disaster preparation, mostly concentrating on pre-positioning resources. There’s a 2-day event on whether agencies have learnt the right lessons from Typhoon Yolanda. Somehow that seems a little moot now: there’s about to be a practical exam, and it’s a pretty high bar on pass/fail.  I put a note in the company chat that I might have a small issue with connectivity with a large typhoon coming and all but will try to stay safe; nobody responds.  I drop notes in the disaster data chats that I’m in the area if needed – friends respond and add me to groups.

I check the HOT tasks list for the Philippines.  There are still tasks on there (recent) mapping damage and infrastructure (roads etc) from the last storm.  At least one of them has been updated in the last few hours, but if the last storm isn’t finished yet, how are we going to prepare for the next one?

The local disaster website, Pagosa, is down – overloaded with people looking for information. I wonder how many were local, and whether it would be good to have a “locals-only” site somewhere to keep down the traffic.

We travel back to the Ecamp in time for Celina to pitch her disaster community ideas to the judges.  The competition is about education and disaster, and many of the pitches have woven both together. 

We show the Ushahidi/ MAVC team  and make sure they’re booked into safe accommodation away from the storm.  It’s killing their plan to go walking on the coast at the weekend, but that isn’t the best idea right now (getting the hell out to a safe building is). We also reassure Matt, their colleague in Nairobi, that his team-mates are going to be safe.

As we leave for the night, there’s a crowd of people around a television, looking at a picture of the storm track.  We’re booked on the 5:30pm transport out tomorrow, but by that time the roads will be full of people heading from here to safety in Manila. Nobody here seems to be panicking about this yet.

We go out to dinner and Celina scores: after hours of looking for a taxi to get us off the coast early, the hotel has a car service that will take us (and up to 6 friends) away.

Ruby day 2: E-Camp

This day is hectic. We start with an early-morning breakfast and presentation run-through, then head out to the event.  There are people here from mongolia, cambodia, vietnam, the philippines, india, sri lanka, japan, indonesian, USA (erm… just me, aka the token white dude), all working together to improve education through communities, with tech as an enabler (not, note, as the end-point of each idea). There’s lots of work on citizen participation, and I have a great time hanging out with a mix of public-school teachers, government officials and designers. CheckMySchool is the working school-reporting system (SMS, parents, children, ownership et al) that I’ve seen other countries try to build, is doing similar for government services and one of the local telecoms companies (Smart) has done interesting work on classrooms based on tablets. The thing that they all have in common is that they’re designed as systems, not technologies, and designed to be sustainable through creative use of communities and student grades (for instance, is part of the political science curriculum).  One comment that sticks is that agencies are easy to deal with but mayors don’t care about negative feedback – this devolved power could be an interesting issue for any other schemes rolling out across the country.

I help facilitate the Making All Voices Count brainstorming session on tech in education (I also talk about Ushahidi tools: of the 48 platform instances I’ve found in the Philippines so far, most are about disasters or traffic).  Corruption, bad governance and high workloads are big topics here.

I check in on Ruby. She still doesn’t seem so bad.

Ruby Day 1: To Tagatay

I’m geeking out about disaster preparation and response today (I’m also doing my day job work, as part of a promise to work-from-philippines for the next 2 weeks).  We talk about Ebola (I’ve been quietly doing bits where I can on the Ebola data response, and my friend is worried that with filipinos coming back from West Africa there’ll be an outbreak here too).  As i came in the airport, there were Ebola screeners but the early-morning flight from Tokyo seemed to look like low risk. Tracking an outbreak response across hundreds of islands would be a little different to, say, Sierra Leone – hospitals here are mostly private and unmapped, and transport estimates would be much more complex than the road time mapping that the OpenStreetMap crowd have been doing on the Ebola response recently.  A new event’s shown up on the radar for the weekend, using local drone images to map fallen coconut trees after Yolanda (and use this as a training set for algorithms).  I’m asked for a short talk at the OSM event.  Ruby isn’t really even a topic yet.

I have a little confusion about transport – the pickup in Manila was miles away (which in Manila traffic really is a lifetime) and earlier than I’d assumed (things can be organized but not communicated so much here), so after much back and forth, I’m booked on an afternoon transport from the airport. I take a taxi there… and get stuck in the traffic snarl-ups around the airport: it’s Christmas (a big deal where lots of people come home from abroad) and the new airport skyway construction has reduced the lanes available, making any travel there slow and miserable. We’re 7km away with half an hour to go and no traffic movement, so we divert and drive out to Tagataya. The toll roads provide relief; the local roads to the sides of us are moving more freely but still packed. It’s not dirt roads, but the motorbikes and plywood-built roadside stalls remind me strongly of Africa (“Africa the country”, as we’ve been teasing the MAVC team about).  There are slums at the roadside here – brick-built small houses jumbled up in a sea of tin roofs -they’re not going to be a good place to be in a strong storm.

Typhoon Ruby

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When I came to the Philippines, my sister begged me to write a diary like the Tanzania one – a log of what I was doing and seeing that she could compare her own experiences in the area with.  But the past few days I’ve stayed with friends and worked with colleagues, and it somehow seemed wrong and less interesting to focus a diary on that.

But all the talks and sessions (and talk and session preparation) are over, and it occurred to me that people might just be interested in a diary about what it’s like to wait for and be here after a supertyphoon (I know. D’oh).

When I left for the Philippines, I checked the weather forecasts.  It’s the anniversary of super typhoon Yolanda, but there weren’t any big warnings out about typhoon season, and it all felt pretty quiet.  I googled “typhoon” in the news, and saw a small piece about the Yolanda anniversary with a little note at the bottom that there was a storm tracking in that probably wouldn’t amount to much but would become Typhoon Ruby when it hit the Philippines Area of Responsibillity (this seems to be a uniquely filipino thing, this renaming of storms when they cross over their borders – my friends joked last night that it’s because they have so many storms they’ve run out of names).  I liked the name, so I put a note in my work’s chat area, joking about the irony (I’ve just finished teaching a Ruby on Rails class) and that I must have missed typhoons Php and Python already.

Then forgot about it and did the 30-hour trip from New York to Manila via a night out in Tokyo and some yummy food that I will never be able to identify.

It’s Friday now, and I’ve been here since Monday. In that time, I’ve geeked out with the crisis mapping friend that I’d promised to come visit here (and gave in after she kept posting me flight prices, and scheduled an OpenStreetMap event at the same time as an Ushahidi-related one). Been to 2 massage spas ($10 for an hour of back-pounding that I still managed to fall asleep through). Eaten piles of filipino food (filipinos eat.. and eat… but never seem to get fat). Spent lots of time in Manila’s crazy traffic jams. Taken an Uber car out to Tagataya on the coast, for the eCamp education communities unconference. Clung onto my wheelie suitcase as it tried to roll out of the tricycle (motorcycle sidecar taxi) I was in. Promised to fly out and visit (airfares are really cheap) some crisis mapping friends on other islands. Mistaken the volcanic lake we’re staying next to (volcano inside volcano inside volcano: active) for a sea.

And kept quietly checking in on Ruby, possibly hoping that I might see a big storm over here. She looked like she was dying out for a while – moderating.  One article I looked at had 6-7 predicted different tracks for the storm which looked odd until I spoke to people about it.  Apparently, that’s the way this storm is: unpredictable, moving, might track into here, might veer away at the last minute (although people are expecting this less, hour by hour).  It looked like storm Hagupit (“whip”) might never become “Ruby”.  And then she started to pick up strength.  Now she’s a cat 5 – the same strength as Yolanda, the typhoon that devasted huge areas of the Philippines last year.  And she’s heading straight for our hotel.