Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Project NOAH

I could imagine Noah's desperation when he saw the futility of his efforts as he lift that first plank of wood. How can he build an ark from scratch which can carry thousands of animals to salvation and sustain their survival for 10, 20 30, 40 days? How can he build something great from this small piece of stick?

Yet we all know the story-- we know that he persevered, he moved forward, even if he started with just a piece of wood, even if he only seem to have built a raft at the start.

Sometimes, a raft is enough to save a life. or a floating piece of wood. Or a log.

July 2012, Project NOAH was launched with a very energetic vibe. Here is a system which can save thousands of lives, the proponents asserted. Here is the solution to our countries perennial problems. Here is our ark aginst our enemy, the flood.

The project has a robust mission:

The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH) program team will collaborate with government agencies to promote and integrate advanced science and technology to enhance disaster management and prevention capacity of the Philippine government. These include: the deployment of instruments and state-of-the-art methods to construct high resolution hazard maps that are relevant to the community and local government units; delivery of readily accessible, timely and accurate hazards information through various media and communication platforms; disaster research and development; integration of disaster efforts by the national government, academe and civil society organizations; and application of a bottom-up approach by communities to resilience against disasters.

That's a mouthful.

Even grander is its vision.

To assure homeland security by reducing casualties and property loss from extreme hazard events and build disaster resilient communities in the Philippines by way of establishing research and development platforms and the promotion of frontier science and technology in disaster efforts.

To become a world leader in programs that leverage on advanced science and technology to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards.

I am almost in tears, and that is not in a sarcastic negative manner. I admire the effort that the government is giving into this kind of project. Having a background in the physical science, I know how it feels when a science project you propose to the higher ups geta go signal and recieves a funding. It's not even the money that you get from it. It's the fact that you get the opportunity to create something that you envision would become something great. It is a great feeling of satisfaction.

Tinkering a bit with the application, I'm quite overwhelmed by the amount of information they are providing in almost real time period.

Perhaps one of the most useful layer is the Probaility of Rain. As covered in their FAQ, it answers the question:

Q. Is it going to rain today?

A. Check the Probability of Rain option under the Weather Outlook tab. Click on an icon on the map located around your area to see the percent chance of rain within an hour, 3, and 6 hours.

There's an almost 50% chance that it would rain within our hour in my area. I should bring my umbrella if I'm going out.

Another useful layer, albeit not immediately but for long term plans is Flood Map. It shows the flood height and its extent given a particular rainfall scenario.

I chose a scenario with light rainfall (5 year flood map) and I get the image below. Which means I should not build my house in the red and orange areas. Those are flooded easily.

See that legend on the right? The humanoid figure is the average height of a Filipino (5'5"). The red means that if you are an average Filipino you will be submerged. And you'll be dead.

There are many other things you can find here. (I think if I want to write a scientific paper, I can create one by just using historical and real-time updated data in this page.)

There is a layer for Weather Stations which show the amount of rainfall, temperature, wind speed, wind direction, air pressure, and humidity of a geographic area for the last 24 hours. There's stream gauge and rain gauge. MTSAT, Processed MTSAT. Rainfall, Temperature, and Pressure Contours. I don't how they are used at the moment but that is just because I don't want to delve deeper. But I know that they all have their applications.

This program is a collaboration of many agencies. I commend this kind of joint work. I know it's not much right now but it is a building block for something bigger and better. It may be best if the government gives a lot of support into these endeavors. We are a country not endowed with a magnificent space program. Or a collosal particle physics accelerator project.

Yet, we can still strive to be great at some things. And the things worth doing are those that benefit our countrymen. Stepping on the moon will not help us feed our fellows. Discovering a new particle will not give a comfortable roof to our homeless. Let those rich nations conquer space.

I tend to think Project NOAH is just a log. It is a tool and information dissemination system to arm us, make us aware of the situation, to alert us. But it is a start of something huge. It is a sign just like an olive leaf, that even with all these literal and metaphorical flood around us, we are not beyond saving.

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