Emergency Data Management

Emergencies require rapid response to save as many lives as possible and to secure people’s livelihoods. The growing trend in technology development, especially the fast growth in mobile phone access is offering new ways to prepare and react in emergency situations. Social media, SMS messaging, mobile phone applications and availability of map data are paving the way for citizens, volunteers and humanitarian workers to take part in emergency data sharing and crowd sourcing. Pajat Solutions and Plan Finland started in 2009 to develop mobile GIS field tool, Poimapper, to enable better data collection and management. The tool has proven to be a success and today it is used by Plan International in Africa, Asia, and Latin America projects ranging from water point mapping to child protection and emergency data mapping and collection.

Plan Philippines tested the Poimapper tool first time early 2013, and as the country is located in a disaster prone area, Plan was prepared to use the tool in disaster situations. On November 8th 2013 one of the strongest typhoons, Haiyan, made landfall in the Philippines affecting millions of people. Plan employers started immediately to conduct rapid needs-assessment and to track road conditions in the affected areas with their mobile phones, with the Poimapper application. At the same time social media channels started to push information from the field resulting in fragmented information from the area. Therefore, Plan Finland, Plan Philippines and Pajat Solutions decided to build an initial emergency platform to form a better picture of the disaster by drawing citizen produced data on one platform as layers.

During the platform development the need for up-to-date and free Earth Observation data came evident, but free data unfortunately was not easily available. Digital Globe offered before and after satellite imagery free of charge for a limited time of two months for the first assessment phase, but this was not enough for the needs. It became clear that the citizens, volunteers, and emergency staff did not know how to use EO data and building an overall view of the disaster was difficult.

This pilot addresses the challenge of combining EO data with data produced by citizens, volunteers and humanitarian workers and to prepare and response to similar situations more efficiently. The pilot uses the data collected by the humanitarian workers, primarily Plan staff, with Poimapper tool after November 8th 2013 and the data will be shared on a public online platform to create a process of combining EO and CS data and finding new ways of responding more efficiently. During the first phase of the pilot, availability of EO data is analyzed and if free of charge data is not available, the possibility to use commercially produced data is evaluated.

Plan’s focus is in supporting the most vulnerable communities and people, especially children. Therefore this pilot focuses on remote areas of the Philippines, especially East Samar island, as many of the most vulnerable people live in this area. In many cases most attention is given to the larger commercial centers, such as Tacloban city in the case of the Typhoon Haiyan. In remote regions majority of people rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, thus making them even more vulnerable to the consequences of natural disasters, deepening their dependency on external support.

The main problems to be addressed:

  • Lack of simple processes for citizens, NGOs and volunteers to find and utilize up to date and freely available satellite imagery for coordination purposes and for building new not-for-profit services in disaster situations
  • Lack of process of using regularly updated satellite imagery in the recovery and response phases, which can last for several years

There are already tools and processes to engage citizens, volunteers and humanitarian aid workers into the emergency data production and management. Social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Flickr; platforms such as Ushahidi and Poimapper and base maps such as Open Street Map (OSM) and Google Maps are enabling for new processes to crowd source the data. However, one of the major drawbacks is the availability of up-to-date satellite imagery, resulting in inefficient situational analyses during the emergency preparedness and recovery. Even little information on road network conditions or information on damaged buildings can affect large group of people.

The recovery phase after the first shock is long, usually several years. Non-profit organizations, volunteers, and citizens cannot afford to pay for the imagery. If the data needs to be purchased by different organizations the data will be even more fragmented to organization specific implementations, limiting agile and non-profit ways of developing new services and enhancing collaboration. In addition to the prices, there is a need for regularly updated satellite imagery. Coordination between different organizations, preparedness planning, and recovery efforts after a disaster could be intensified with regularly updated free satellite imagery as one of the map layers for base maps. This would allow for example better documentation of the damages, rebuilding of infrastructure or tracking the water levels in flooded areas.

This pilot program will investigate the usability of data from several sources: Landsat-8 (as a proxy for Sentinel-2), Spot 4-5, Deimos, GeoEye, Ikonos, WorldView-2, Kompsat, TerraSAR-X, TanDEM-X, Cosmo Skymed, and ERS-2 Radar Satellite and Envisat for Disaster Charter (www.disasterscharter.org) data.

The use of Sentinel 2 data of the Copernicus programme will be analyzed if it becomes available during the project period. Companies such as Digital Globe and Apollo Mapping are also used as resource, and the quality and cost efficiency of their data is evaluated.