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Published on December 11th, 2012 | by EJC


Philippines: Google Crisis Map For Typhoon Pablo (Bopha)

Following the Tropical Storm Son-Tinh that battered several Asian countries at the end of October, the Philippines was hit again by another big storm, Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) last week. The country, which is comprised of thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean, counted over 700 deaths and 900 still missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated to seek aid, while hundreds more are left without shelter.

With years of experience of deploying maps and tools like Crisis Map and Person Finder whenever natural disasters happen in the world, Google quickly launched the the Google Crisis Map in response to Typhoon Bopha. The Google Crisis Map visualised the path of the storm by using data from Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), and applied multiple data layers such as the disaster alerts from Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), clouds imagery from US Naval Research Laboratory as well as Youtube videos from CitizenTube that are validated by Storyful. In addition, Google launched Google Free Zone, a service that allows a user to access its products such as Gmail and Google Search on mobile phones without charge.

Thanks to the Stratomap, which allows the usage of different formats of layers including KML, GeoRSS, Tile URLs, and Google Fusion Tables, Google Crisis Map lets us compare different datasets on a single map and monitor the storm from different points of view.

While technology is helping the implementation of the initiative, it is important to note that availability of quality data is crucial to have a relevant map that can be used not only for humanitarian purposes but also for media industries. While the previous post introduced the launch of DH Network, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) inquired to the Network to filter relevant audiovisual contents in relation to the damages of Typhoon Bopha on Twitter. The Philippines has seen a radical growth in its Twitter penetration rate, counting over 9.5 million users today. Over 20,000 tweets were assessed by Humanity Road and the Standby Volunteer Task Force and the data layer was included on the Google Crisis Map. Through contributions of data sharing, filtering and visualisation by multiple stakeholders, this practice showcased how a map became more effective through a collaboration-based working method.

There is an issue with regards to information gathering in a country that has large numbers of isolated islands, making it very difficult to get a big picture of what is happening on the ground. Satellite imagery can hardly be used for storms due to the weather conditions. Collaborative efforts like this can be helpful also for media outlets that are confronted with limited resources as well news sources.

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory 


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