How ICT tools can improve disaster preparedness and recovery

Keiko Saito
Disaster Risk Manager, The World Bank
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On a visit this week to the Japanese coastal area of Yuriage, Teerayut Horanont peered through glasses at the quiet landscape that gives way to the Pacific Ocean. He didn’t just see the landscape – he saw the town that once thrived there.

An augmented reality tool installed in the glasses provided a visual overlay of what the area looked like before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated Yuriage and many other coastal communities in Japan.

“Seeing the visualization of Yuriage before the tsunami makes it very clear how catastrophic it was for this area. Without the glasses, it would be difficult to understand the extent of the impact, as it looks now like nothing was ever here,” said Horanont, an assistant professor at Thammasat University’s Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Prior to the disaster, Yuriage was a residential town with a population of approximately 7,000 people. The tsunami wiped out the town, leaving a flattened landscape in its wake.

Horanont used the glasses while on a tour hosted by local high school students who survived the 2011 disaster. Offered as part of their “Kataribe” (preserving and sharing information) initiative, the tour combines technology with spoken stories that help preserve memories of life before the tsunami and survival experiences from the disaster itself.

“I am impressed with the Japanese people’s resilience in coping with the aftermath,” Horanont added. “There is a lot we can learn from this experience.”

Horanont was among a group of technologists, academics, government officials, and disaster risk management experts who participated in this week’s Asia Resilience Forum 2015, organized as part of the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.

The two-day forum, hosted by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) in collaboration with Japanese partner Race for Resilience, assessed the role of technology – including information and communications technology (ICT) built by and for members of local communities – in strengthening resilience to natural disasters.

At the forum, participants from across the Asia region discussed their projects and exchanged lessons learned from collaboration with the public sector in developing civic disaster resilience apps.

One such tool is JakSAFE, a free and open source software solution that is used in Jakarta to automate the creation of disaster and loss assessment data to estimate direct damage and losses incurred by flooding.

Participants also discussed potential disaster risk management applications for ICT tools. This includes the Hodoyoshi microsatellite, launched last year, and developed and run by the University of Tokyo Microsatellite team led by Shinichi Nakasuka with the School of Engineering. The lightweight, low-cost satellite has three relevant components: an optical sensor that captures satellite images at six meters resolution, a transmission up/downlink for communications, and an extra payload for adding other sensors. Given the low cost of developing and launching this satellite, it is hoped that these may be useful in developing country contexts.

A number of the speakers at the Asia Resilience Forum had participated in Code for Resilience, an initiative supported by GFDRR and local partners to increase the availability of locally relevant technologies that strengthen community resilience to natural hazards like earthquakes, cyclones, and floods.

In 2014, over 1,500 software and hardware developers participated in 11 Code for Resilience “code sprints” held across eight countries: Bangladesh, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Code for Resilience continues to facilitate collaboration between disaster management agencies, scientists, and technical communities at local and global levels. As new projects are developed, communities like Yuriage will be able to use these tools to save lives and reduce economic losses from the next disaster.

This article is published in collaboration with The World Bank’s Voices Blog. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Keiko Saito is a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Specialist with the GFDRR Labs team.

Image: Nippon Steel’s facility damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. REUTERS/Toru Hanai. 


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