ELEVENTH HOUR: Can social media chatbots save Filipinos from climate disasters?

Published October 28, 2021, 1:41 PM

by Climate Reality Project Philippines

“How are you? I’m Disaster Bot. To report flooding near you, reply using #flood.”

This is the automated response Filipino users get after they tweet “baha” or “flood” and tag the @MapaKalamidad account. Aside from Twitter, the chatbot is also able to monitor certain keywords linked to disasters that are posted on Facebook and Telegram.

The chatbot then provides the users with a unique link that will guide them to submit anonymous flood reports through four simple steps: (1) verify their location, (2) record flood height, (3) add photo, and (4) provide description. These reports are immediately displayed on a public map that can be accessed on the MapaKalamidad.ph website in real-time.

This is how MapaKalamidad.ph harnesses the power of social media and instant messaging platforms to crowdsource information about disasters at the street level.

(Watch: How to Make a Report to MapaKalamidad.ph)

MapaKalamidad.ph is a mobile-centric platform intended for vulnerable communities, government agencies with limited technical means, and individuals with modest means for data usage.

The interface develops a framework for a two-way communication system. With the goal of providing immediate situational information for residents, emergency first responders, and government agencies, MapaKalamidad.ph enables users to make decisions about safety and navigation and increases response times during disaster scenarios. It leverages capacities for all residents to equally participate in decision-making by providing free and real-time disaster information.

MapaKalamidad.ph is a free web-based and open-source platform that harnesses the power of social media and instant messaging to gather, sort, and display information about disasters at the street level. (Yayasan Peta Bencana)

Mapping disasters from the virtual crowd

Launched in September 2020, MapaKalamidad.ph draws from the experience of a similar disaster-reporting platform in Indonesia called PetaBencana.id. Since its debut, the platform has been made possible in collaboration with project partners including the United States Agency for International Development, Office of Civil Defense, and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The platform aims to contribute to the urgent need for stronger climate change adaptation and disaster response actions in the Philippines, a country highly vulnerable to extreme climate events and rising sea levels.

As extreme weather events occur at greater frequencies, real-time information is critical for timely and informed decision making during disasters in order to minimize loss and improve safety. (Yayasan Peta Bencana)

Given that the Philippines enjoys one of the highest concentrations of social media users in the world, the platform hopes to capitalize on the posts of Filipino citizens on social media to intensify disaster information-sharing and adapt to the adverse effects of flooding on daily activities, such as traffic disruption and school closures. It utilizes the Artificial Intelligence (AI)-assisted reports with official data from local and government agencies to support the online flood map.

Following its successful pilot testing in Quezon City and Pampanga, the platform will have its nationwide launch within the last quarter of this year. In the future, it also plans to expand into a multi-hazard platform like its Indonesian counterpart, which maps earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fire, strong winds, and haze.

Promoting civic co-management and open data

The MapaKalamidad.ph platform aims to promote an ethic of information sharing and civic co-management, by supporting peer-to-peer sharing and providing a way for government agencies and first emergency responders to monitor the needs of residents.

It is committed to democratizing decision support tools. The main goal is to ensure that all residents have access to the information they need to coordinate individual and collective actions for safety while providing first responders with tools for evidence-based emergency response and disaster risk reduction.

It also aims to contribute to greater levels of trust and shift the relationships between residents and government agencies who are now more willing and able to openly share verified information.

MapaKalamidad.ph advocates for more equitable forms of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation. The goal is to provide residents with the most critical resource during disasters: open and verified information. (Yayasan Peta Bencana)

The accessibility and transparency of data extend far beyond the platform itself. MapaKalamidad.ph is a strong advocate for the use of open-source software and open data in supporting collaborative efforts for disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation.

The open-source community provides a rich environment for knowledge exchange and supports frameworks to build and expand upon networks of a diverse range of expertise.

In making the data open, all users are enabled to inspect the software, review the system, and develop complementary tools and technologies that further enhance resilience.

As Filipinos prepare for more climate-induced disasters in the future, MapaKalamidad.ph intends to reduce risks together and save lives one social media post at a time.

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About the author

Ferth Vandensteen Manaysay is a Climate Reality Leader trained during the 2016 Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Manila. He is currently the engagement officer of The Climate Reality Project Philippines. He has been appointed as vice chairperson and Sectoral Representative of Young People from Disaster-Stricken Areas at the United Nations Youth Advisory Board (UNYAB) Philippines. He has also worked with different non-governmental and academic organizations, including Yayasan Peta Bencana (Disaster Map Foundation), Asia Foundation, Ateneo School of Government, and East-West Center. He earned his Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Waseda University.

 
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