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Mapping hope: how community data is driving cloud-based disaster management in the Philippines

“During a natural disaster, two critical issues that need to be addressed quickly are the lack of information from the affected communities and the perception of the survivors that they are being left behind”. That’s the view of Dan Bercasio, Operations Head at Gawad Kalinga (GK) in the Philippines, the 4th most natural disaster-prone country in the world.

Dan knows this fact from experience. That’s why GK has developed a disaster management model that involves mobilizing local community volunteers to collect valuable information that can be mapped and stored in the cloud.

“First,” Dan adds, “you need to get into the vulnerable communities to collect the data”. This is where Cerello Arguelles comes in. Once a victim of typhoons but now using that experience to positive effect as a GK volunteer, Cerello uses a smartphone to gather community information. He collects data on the demographics of the local population such as household composition, income, and livelihood, among others. He also geotags the locations of important structures such as government offices, schools, and evacuation centers. The local people know and trust him in driving this data collecting process.

As a local man himself, Cerello enjoys high levels of trust and insight within the community.

This information is used to prepare for disasters, including planning the amount of emergency supplies such as food, water and temporary shelters as well as scaling evacuation and response team levels.

Volunteer responders like Cerello also play a major role when the disaster strikes and the response shifts from planning to emergency and relief operations. They collect real time data on the community and the storm using SMS sent to the GK control center, which Dan oversees. As Dan says, “This information allows us to aggregate real-time on the ground data which is integrated with data previously gathered from GK communities. Then we can make critical decisions within the first 72 hours of a disaster striking.”

Before, disaster response was built on best estimate scenarios and fragmented intelligence gathered from the affected area. Now, with more accurate baseline data plus updated, real-time on the ground data, resources and response can be scaled and targeted with much more precision and accuracy.

Cerello’s mobility is helped greatly by his job as a local tuk-tuk driver.

In these critical first hours with the knowledge GK now has of the communities, appropriate responses can be made so communities don’t feel left behind. GK knows that a strong, prepared community fights back better in the face of adversity.

PowerApps enables offline data entry for remote villages and ensures that the data gathered is secure and automatically uploaded into the cloud when connection is restored after power outages. PowerBI is then used to harness the power of this data by visualizing, analyzing, and providing GK with insights for better-informed and quicker decision-making. This also connects to an external shared portal so that other donors and actors can plan and track their involvement.

Teams can work more effectively by visualizing data insights on Power BI dashboards.

It all adds up to shifting to an informed and smart data driven response instead of a ‘this is what we did last time’ response. Every typhoon is different, every community changes. Microsoft Azure handles this kind of exponential data growth without leaving security, scalability, or analytics behind; seamlessly integrating applications, data, and processes across both on-premise and in the cloud.

GK is using the latest technology to maximise its disaster management. For Cerello, this translates into mapping hope for local communities. “Now that communities are empowered by technology, I know they will not experience the helplessness I felt before.”

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