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Shaping the Potential for Improved Disaster Response and Management in the Philippines

Milosil E. Cruz

Peace Corps Response Coordinator, Philippines

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines can be an especially interesting experience due to the country's vulnerability to intense climate and geological forces. Located on the Ring of Fire, the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. In 2013, the Philippines experienced several catastrophes including severe flooding in Metro Manila due to Tropical Storm Maring, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Bohol, and Super Typhoon Yolanda—the strongest storm ever recorded which caused massive destruction in Eastern Visayas.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is the Philippine's leading national government agency in charge of providing social protection and services to the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged. One focus of the DSWD is to prevent and minimize the effects of disasters on its citizens and to provide assistance to those affected. In partnership with Peace Corps Response, a program in the U.S. Peace Corps, the DSWD recognized that updating its DRRM information system to improve the rapid and efficient flow of information was an emerging priority. In 2010, the DSWD engaged Peace Corps Response Volunteer George Pornaras who made huge strides in outlining a plan for an enhanced Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Information System (DRRAMIS).

Following George's successful service, Peace Corps Response Volunteer Karen Grace Lee arrived in January 2013 and worked with the Department's Information Communications Technology Management Services team as a Web/XML Developer to enhance and develop two components of the DRRAMIS: the Relief Goods Inventory Management System (RGIMS) and the Enhanced Disaster Reporting System (EDRS)—tools that monitor relief good logistics and facilitate disaster data gathering, validation and reporting and ultimately assist the DSWD in improving their disaster management operations.

During the first part of her service, Karen participated in the deployment phase of the RGIMS and trained users at DSWD Regional Offices nationwide. RGIMS is a web-based system developed by Sahana and sponsored by UN World Food Programme, that allows DSWD warehouses to track donations, requests, the expiration dates of perishable items, and the movement of relief goods in real-time.

In May 2013, Karen facilitated at a national DSWD demo workshop and introduced new tools that the team at ICTMS had developed for improved disaster reporting, including the use of mobile technology and Open Data Kit, a free and open-source data collection tool for gathering information such as GPS coordinates, images and disaster statistics on the field. Karen also introduced the EDRS, a disaster management tool that she helped develop in collaboration with the DSWD Disaster Response Operation Monitoring and Information Center which gathers validated and standardized disaster-related data for rapid assessment in a variety of accessible formats (e.g. Microsoft Excel, a web application and a mobile app). The EDRS can be used by the DSWD's Regional Offices to provide the Central Office with information on the number of affected individuals, damaged houses and barangays (towns) as well as help with evacuation site management, the distribution of the humanitarian aid and the collection of demographic indicators of the population served. The EDRS is a powerful resource for management to make critical decisions on disaster response and the distribution of resources.

In August 2013, Tropical Storm Maring caused flooding of 70% of Metro Manila and Karen saw first-hand what it is like for the Philippines to be under a state of calamity. She spent many days at the DSWD National Resource Operations Center providing technical support to the RGIMS system so that management could quickly view the real-time inventory of family food packs and donations of relief goods received and dispatched to victims. In November, another disaster—Super Typhoon Yolanda, Haiyan devastated Eastern Visayas, affecting about 16 million people. Due to partnerships between DSWD, U.S. Peace Corps Response and other agencies, including the UN World Food Programme, information systems like RGIMS and EDRS are improving disaster response and management in the Philippines.

Last updated Oct 21 2014

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