blog_01The Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Philippines Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOLCS), and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) are three agencies of foremost importance. Combined they are responsible for the monitoring, detecting, and warning of key natural hazards that continue to threaten and impact the Archipelago. On average, the Islands are exposed to 20 Typhoons each year; making PAGASA a very busy agency. The ocean fault lines are almost an arms reach away that gives PHILVOLCS less than a 20-30 minutes tsunami warning horizon.

We came to learn of these fact during the ‘CAP on a Map‘ kick-off workshop. It was held at the Amihan Conference Room, at PAGASA, in Quezon City – Manila. Workshop participants represented a mix of organizations belonging to hazard detection/monitoring, alerting authorities, first-responder agencies and TV broadcasters. They participated in a few exercises intended to discuss the state of sharing alerts and warnings. PAGASA is one step a head with implementing CAP. They have worked with Google Crisis Response to publish CAP messages for public dissemination.

The Cap on a Map project, made possible through funding from UNESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness, will expand on the previous efforts to introduced all-hazard all-media and multi-agency situational-awareness approach. The workshop discussions also revealed that Filipinos are a mobile app culture with various risk information sharing apps. All of these findings are discussed in the report.


PAGASA_workshop_10 Discussions with the Philippines Disaster Recover Foundation (PDRF) realized the need to think of public utilities as an important partners who should be intertwined with the situational-awareness. Gas pipe explosion was a scenario discussed during one of the workshop group exercise. Water and Electricity is privatized in the Philippines; same as Telecommunications. Involving all public and private stakeholders in the design and roll-out is critical to operationalizing a functional early warning system.

At the outset the project is partnering with the PAGASA to pave the way in implementing the project in the Philippines. The implementation would deploy the SAMBRO Multi Agency Situational Awareness (MASA) platform. It is intended to improve the situational-awareness for the disaster and emergency management agencies. The knowledge mobilized through the MASA software would enhance the coordination of the response to various hazard events and incidents. CAP is the supporting piece that fosters interoperability enabling the exchange of all-hazard alert/warning with multiple agencies and the public using all available media channels. As we move forward, with the design and implementation, we will be exercising a participatory community centric approach involving all relevant institutions and administrative strata.

Maldives Villingilli Island

Maldives Villingilli Island

A workshop and set of meetings (April 15 & 16, 2015) took place in the capitol city Male in the Maldives. It was an event of the CAP on a Map kickoff in the Maldives. The project aims to improve the institutional responsiveness to all-hazards. The workshop and meeting, serving as a platform to initiate the project in the Maldives, was organized by the project counterpart the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) of the Government of Maldives.


An important expectation of the workshop was to convince the existing disaster management technical committee of the emergency coordination efficiency gains and incremental effectiveness the project, once implemented, would offer. A large number of the technical committee members were present at the workshop. They agreed to serve as the CAP working group, with oversight and support the CAP-enabled Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO) implementation. The report outlines six points the the technical committee should support and lobby for establish a platform for Multi Agency Situational Awareness.

The Island country is frequently challenged with windstorms, wave swells, floods, water outage, earthquakes and maritime accidents. Tsunami and Cyclones are less frequent but possess great threats. The maritime vessels are mandated to be equipped with VHF communications. However, some private smaller boats rely on cellular phones. Island are interconnected to optimize on network downtime. However, there are many shadow areas that require alternate satellite based communications.

Maldives Meteorological Services Meeting with Officials

Maldives Meteorological Services Meeting with Officials

Two meetings followed the workshop on the second day. First was with NDMC (Honourable State Minister Mr. Mohamed Zuhair, Honourable Deputy Minister Mrs. Fathimath Thasneem, and Project Director: Mr. Hisan Hassan) . Second was with the Maldives Meteorological Service (MMS) officials. The two main organizations: NDMC and MMS agreed to support the CAP-enabled SAMBRO implementation. They are interested in the efficiency gains with interoperability and automating alerting/warning. At present MMS incorporates several modes of communication involving telephone calls and text-messaging. Other authorities such as the Maldives Disaster Response Force (MDRF) use VHF radios along with mobile phones. All which can be integrated for disseminating the single entry of a CAP message to multiple agencies and recipients.

Participants, during a SWOT analysis of implementing CAP on a Map project, recognized the importance of Sahana software being open source and customizable serving emergency coordination. They had misinterpreted that Sahana system interdependent on the Internet. A Sahana installation on a laptop directly connected to a GSM modem disseminating SMS, is an example of a non-Internet dependent solution. It is important that NDMC, possibly in consultation with Communications Authority of Maldives and Ministry of Broadcast, determine the necessary and sufficient technologies to cover all Atolls and Island. Other discussions were on the needs for of building institutional capacity. The software will offer agencies with a common operating picture to coordinate and respond to any emergency by exchanging near-real-time CAP feeds.


Image taken from the Timore Leste Disaster Risk MIS:

Image taken from the Timor Leste Disaster Risk MIS:

Under a well-developed disaster management system, the Disaster Management Organization of a Country should be aware of and should map every significant emergency incident or risk in the country. Disseminating such information among multiple agencies with disparate systems can be complicated. Multi-Agency Situational-Awareness (MASA) platforms facilitate the integration of silo-ed Organizations and dilutes inter-agency rivalry at every level of a National warning and incident management system. Such a platform that incorporates the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard is far more likely to interoperate with National and International warning systems. Moreover, the CAP content standard lays out emergency policies and procedures for streamlined information sharing among multiple agencies.

escap_ssf_ait_logosThe aforesaid concept: CAP-on-a-Map was one of the winning proposals that received funding from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); specifically from the UNESCAP  Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster, and Climate Preparedness. The Sahana Software Foundation (SSF) teamed with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Geoinformatics Centre in pitching the proposal. The two organizations will complement each other with a combined set of expertise involving remote sensing, risk assessment, emergency communication, webGIS, and open source software. This is a stepping stone pilot that will build a program to offer countries in the Asia and the Pacific region (but not limited to) with software and procedures to manage their MASA practices.

Organizations participating in implementing CAP

Organizations participating in implementing CAP

At this pilot stage, this project will implement and evaluate a customized Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (abbreviated as SAMBRO) to serve the Maldives and the Philippines in managing their MASA practices. AIT and SSF are project co-leads responsible for achieving the proposed goals and objectives. The World Meteorological Organization Public Weather Services (WMO) will be a key adviser to the project, specifically with the implementation of CAP and incorporating the WMO advocated Register of Alerting Authorities. The Philippines Department of Science Technology and the Maldives National Disaster Management Centre are National counterparts leading the implementation, in collaboration with in-line agencies, in their respective countries. AidIQ, AIT Consulting (AITC), and Spot On Solutions (Spot-On) will provide technical assistance.


Activities and Milestones

Over the next 18 months (1st Jan 2015 to 30th Jun 2016) the project will collaborate with the various partners achieving the milestones. They mainly comprise understanding the current state of the warning mechanisms, then training a set of trainers to build National capacity to operationalize the Sahana software-enhanced MASA, run mock-drills to evaluate the interventsion, and finally, share the knowledge with disaster management researchers and practitioners.


High level technical diagram for mobile pictograph alerting

High level technical diagram for mobile pictograph alerting

Almost one year ago, I had presented a concept on the use of “pictographs in alerting” and shared the evidence for the growing need for such an initiative. This was at the 2013 CAP Implementation Workshop in Geneva. The real need was to aid the linguistically challenged: tourist in a foreign country and illiterate. Moreover, it would remove the need to for messaging in multiple languages; especially in countries that are home to a multitude of races and languages.

Although the design was prescribed for mobile phones, given it’s worldwide penetration over PCs, it does not differentiate between internet (data) or voice (SMS, Cell-broadcast) channels, it is adaptive. The idea is to use predefined EDXL-CAP elements to trigger the appropriate message. The message would indicate the urgency, severity, certainty, and event. However, the entire message is based on a set of logic determined by a larger set of EDXL-CAP elements.

The Federation of Internet Alerts (FIA) is a newly formed consortium that is collectively addressing those risk information presentation issues.  They are namely a group of public and private partners with a strong business inclination towards adverting. While was one of the pioneers to work with alerts in the advertising space, others such as ValueClick are also contributing to the initiative. They all have good intentions, namely with opening up their resources to alerting authorities to disseminate warnings.

FIA is currently in the process of standardizing how an alert message should be presented to an audience. Although CAP is a content standard, it does not address how the information should be presented. As my colleague: Eliot Christian (Special Scientific Adviser to WMO), authoring the standardization guidelines, states: “the need for FIA messaging guidelines in the presentation of public warnings arises because different online media will be presenting warnings across overlapping audiences. That means people online could receive inconsistent presentations of warnings for the same event. Inconsistent presentation of warnings can be confusing, and confusion is dangerous in life-threatening situations.” I am currently reviewing their first paper on the guidelines.

Born2Build is a group of enthusiastic 11year olds competing in a First LEGO League Robotics competition. The 2013 topic is “Nature’s Fury” – “children ages 9 to 16 from over 70 countries will explore the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams will discover what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.”


Description of their challenge (from Born2Build site):  One of the biggest challenges disaster relief teams face is finding and keeping track of people. When a natural disaster strikes, the rescue workers face many challenges. The landscape of the location can change. Access to the area may be limited. Also, the rescue workers may have a hard time figuring out where to go and deploy resources.The first hour after a disaster strikes is called the “golden hour”. The chances of surviving is highest during this hour. The three tools that we use are Sahana, Lidar and FINDER, a NASA heartbeat sensor. Sahana is a database made in Sri Lanka. A few years ago google interns made an improved version Sahana. Finder is an system that can find peoples heart rate , it can sense the slightest movement. Finder can find heartbeats up to 30 feet away and 20 feet under rubble. Lidar is a scanner that identifies the area before the natural disaster and then scans it after to see how the landscape has changed. We thought about helping all the relief workers in communicating with each other. In our solution we have combined NASA’s heartbeat sensor, Sahana Software and Lidar to make a system where when a person is found, an biometric scan is taken and the persons identity is fed into the system. This solution increases the chance of finding victims during the “Golden Hour”. Once the information is gathered our solution creates a quick way to notify the database of an person’s status after a natural disaster. We consulted with many sources. We met an architect named Vijay, who talked to us about how buildings are made to deal with natural disasters. We also went to a “Be Prepared” event in downtown Portland which informed us on disaster preparation. We visited an fire station and they showed us all their gear and vehicles and emergency communication devices.

The Geoinformatics Center (GIC), attached to the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) based in Thailand, invited the Sahana Software Foundation to conduct a 2 day SahanaCamp. The Sahana component of the awareness and capacity building workshop was part of a 3 week long course the Asian participants underwent at the AIT.  The SahanaCamp took place on December 16 and 17, 2014, at the GIC premises in AIT.

ait_jaxaThe Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Sentinel Asia initiative is collaborating with AIT with assisting Asian countries with disaster management efforts. One aspect is providing satellite imagery for hazard mapping for pre-disaster activities. Another is, following a disaster, JAXA provides a set of maps of the damage to AIT, who intern supply them to the affected country’s respective Government agency.


The workshop attendees at AIT were receiving disaster preparedness training on the use of GIS for National Hazard Mapping. On day one, the SahanaCamp complemented those activities by introducing them to the Community Resilience Mapping and Vulnerability Mapping tools with hands-on exercises that helped them realize how additional GIS layers such as census data and assets (e.g. buildings) data can be overstayed with the hazard maps to determine the communities level of risk.


The second day of the SahanaCamp exposed them to Sahana-based alerting/warning (i.e. Sahana CAP-enabled Alerting and Messaging Broker) and situational-reporting (i.e. Sahana Incident Reporting System) tools. The objective was to introduce need for hazard maps to define alerting boundaries that are different from political or national administrative boundaries. For example, if we are aware of the flood planes then when issuing a flood warning to that area one would ensure the warning is targeted to populations in and closely around that vulnerable area; opposed to issuing a province-wide or district-wide alert.

The exposure to the Sahana software tools and related exercises were followed by with the participants analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the various Sahana tools and the value of Sahana community of practice.There was a confusion among participants that Sahana Software Foundation would provide free services which it does during a crisis. They realized that they would need to build local capacity such as some software development capabilities. They do foresee opportunities and strengths that emerge from the Open Source Software and the diverse Community associated with the Software. The participants planned action to further explore the Sahana software and make efforts to introduce it to their organizations for further evaluation.

The participants are affiliated with to various government institutions in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. They are specifically associated with the JAXA Mini Projects for Sentinel Asia and SAFE.

communityThe Sahana ecosystem essentially comprise a community of practice; namely, the group of individuals sharing a common interest in investing their resources towards developing information systems for disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery phases. The power of the community of practice approach is one of the main reasons for the Philippines community was able to get Sahana community’s assistance to fulfil their humanitarian operations information sharing and publishing needs. Sahana members could be identified as “technology stewards.” (Terminology adopted from communities of practice theory.

SLIDES presented. – were predominantly focused how the community has developed an essential public good that has been used in several major catastrophes, across the globe, and continues to exist. Just alone in the Philippines there are three deployments of Sahana. There is potential for Sahana to do more in the Philippines with a local presence. Thereby, build capacity to improve local Sahana community to self sustain their deployments.

The workshop was hosted by Viettel and co-organized ITU ASP Centre of Excellence. The workshop took place in Hanoi, Vietnam, 28-29 November 2014. The audience were predominantly IT staff from various government agencies. The talks were mainly from foreign experts.


“Great hands-on experience of what you can do with Sahana eden … at the pre ISCRAM Vietnam conference workshop” – Julie Dugdale (VP – ISCRAM Association) -  excerpt from the ISCRAM Community post on Facebook.

The overall attitude of the participants towards the SahanaCamp @ ISCRAM-Vietnam was that it was an excellent opportunity and their opinion was that the objectives (listed in the evaluation) were met. However, they did express that a two day camp would have been for more effective with ample time to digest and get a better feel for the Sahana-Eden framework, opposed to rushing through it in a day.






It was a small group skewed toward a majority of them being technically quite competent. There were a few non-technical participants, in the sense they were not Python or web-technology software programers but engineers and academics with a computer science background.


The morning session gave the participants a feel for the various Sahana-Eden solutions with: community resilience mapping, vulnerability mapping, volunteer management, incident reporting, assessments, and news feeds. The exercise instructions are available here. In the afternoon, they got deep in to the code, with installing the Sahana-Eden software development package on their own laptops; then actually develop their own module, which got to being as fancy as adding a map to mark points/polygons and text-box/date controls with a localized Graphic User Interface.

Presentation slides:

  1. Introduction to Sahana-Eden
  2. Deploying Sahana-Eden
  3. Introduction to the code

Some outcomes:

The SahanaCamp ended with the lead NGO Resource Centre FOSS facilitator/Mozilla Localization Community Manager: Arky inviting us to the regular meeting of the Vietnam Disaster Management Work Group, the next day, to present Sahana and establish potential collaborations. Similarly, Rafael Saldana, Professor – Mathematics Department, Ateneo de Manila University, was keen in convincing a Filipino NGO or Civil society to adopt Sahana as well seek opportunities to hold a similar SahanaCamp in the Philippines very soon. Lutz Frommberger, Lead Researcher affiliated with the CapacityLab, belonging to the Universitat Bremen in Germany, was interested in evaluating Sahana-Eden to integrate with the Mobile4D project they are implementing in Laos.

tornado_shelterOften people are misconstrued by alert messages and act inappropriately because they have not fully understood the message; especially, when they are short-text messages with partial information. There are many challenges with cognition, or understanding, of public warning messages. UNESCO estimates, on average, 30% of South/West Asians and Sub-Saharan Africans to be illiterate. Those countries combined account for ~40% of the world’s population.

World Bank tourism statistics have estimated over 955 million departures over the past 4 years (2008-2012) and the numbers to rise to 1.6 billion per annum by 2020. Could a Chinese tourist in USA, or any other person alien to English for that matter, understand a rapid-onset Tornado warning text-message?

Studies show that every country in the world is home to more than one language; on average 6 languages, according to recent studies by Ethnologist. In most cases it is above 50, if we consider regions such as Europe, Asia, and Central Africa. Addressing alerts in each language is cumbersome. Although the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) content standard allows for carrying a message in multiple languages, delivering them in each language overwhelms the communications networks.

“Symbols in Alerting” was the basis of my talk at the 6th Common Alerting Protocol Implementation Workshop that took place in Geneva, Switzerland (23-25 April 2013). There were seventy participants (70) from thirty severn (37) countries representing and several International organizations, Sahana Software Foundation was one of them.


It is best to focus on “symbols in alerting for mobiles”. The challenges are in addressing all makes and brands. They typically vary between iOS, Android, Windows, Symbian, so on and so forth. The most effective way may be to host a small applet along with the pictograms in the mobile phone memory. Thereafter, trigger the appropriate pictogram using CAP message for display. A customizable generic applet can be developed. Cellular Operators can adopt the applet, then customize it for the country-context, based on the country CAP-profile. The customized applet can be deliver, over the air, to the subscribers. Thereafter, the subscriber could further customize as to which alerts they would like to see and at what threat levels. The symbol-based alerts on the mobile can be triggered using Cell-broadcast, SMS, or HTTPS (REST-ful) strings.

Symbols are indeed effective provided they carry both the hazard and the required response action. Colours and Numbers are a good way to present the priority (or the severity, certainty, and urgency) of the message. The common consensus of the workshop participants was that “symbols in alerting” is important and some initiatives must be exercised to research and develop a framework that is in in-line with the CAP standard. It may take time to understand the functional requirements, design parameters, and the process variables.

Recently, in Geneva, I met Massimo Cristaldi (CTO  Intelligence for Environment & Security – IES -  Solutions) at the CAP Implementation Workshop (23-25 April 2013). He mentioned, during a tea-break chat, that they evaluated the Sahana-Eden CAP Broker for possible adoption. Given that the Sahana-Eden CAP Broker was not fully developed, they default to building their own. Moreover, he was not at liberty to say whether or not they adopted parts or the existing version in their build; my hunch is that they did. This is an initiative driven by Italians for the European Union. I was thirlled to learn that the Sahana-Eden CAP Broker was, quietly, gaining some traction; especially, it being developed by students through GSOC and GCI programs.

IES developed “JIXEL” is a suite of web based application that allows emergency services (fire and rescue, ambulance, police, civil protection) to seamlessly exchange information during day-by-day operations and when managing catastrophic events and their aftermath. JIXEL adopts CAP as the interoperable content exchange protocol. In addition to the software products, JIXEL also focuses on hardware for rapid routing and sharing of crisis information.

Possibly, the Sahana Software Foundation’s EUROSHA project could find synergies in collaborating with IES Solutions in complementing their efforts by offering some of the available modules in managing European humanitarian crises.