Solvex38 by Tech4DRRM
Barangays Poblacion I and II in Carcar City, Cebu
Jonathan Cartilla (Team Lead), Terence Bonita (System Developer), Federico Nuñez (Community Relations Officer)
Solvex38 is an intelligent flood warning and monitoring system that sends warnings to the community when the flood reach to a certain level. The warnings are in the form of a broadcast in local dialect and a real-time SMS update. The community emergency response team also has access to the public address system so they can provide a more tailor-fitted instruction to the communities.
The system is integrated in the social fabric of the community and to the disaster preparedness plan being implemented by the local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO).
CONNECT WITH US!
- We would like to expand the network to saturate the flood-prone areas of Carcar and its neighboring communities.
- The team is looking for funding opportunities from from local government units, government agencies, and private institutions to further this innovation.
- The team would like to partner with a university to help them in the research component of the Project
0942 471 4717
(032) 511 4854
I was pregnant at the time, and it was raining but there wasn’t any flooding yet. I was crossing the street, on my way home with rice for my family, when we were hit by a flash flood, and the surge of the water was so strong that the force brought me to my knees. I fell into an opening in the road and one of my older kids had to pick me up. Before we knew it we were surrounded by water. I began to cry, because I didn’t know what to do.
Other systems have used sirens, which are effective because everyone understands it’s a warning, but it doesn’t tell you how much time is left.
The Intelligent Flood Warning and Monitoring System is built to measure the rise of water levels during times of heavy precipitation with the use of sensors, as well as a predictive algorithm that forecasts the time of possible flooding. It then broadcasts visual and localized audio warnings within a certain radius. In doing so, it is able to give the most vulnerable community closest to the point of the flood’s first contact the highest chance of gathering their loved ones, securing their belongings, and evacuation in earliest possible time should the need arise. In tandem with the local DRRM arm of the local village and city or municipality, the system ensures a much more streamlined early warning when every second counts in avoiding the loss of any lives.
Forty kilometers south of Cebu City lies Carcar, historically regarded as one of the oldest towns in the whole of Cebu and beloved for products like its mangoes, chicharon, and lechon. The total land area of Carcar clocks in at 116.78 square kilometers, with a population count of just under 120,000 people as of 2015.
Of that number, about 11,000 can be found in Poblacion I. These communities are closest to the river, surrounded by large trees and lush foliage. 49 year-old Edna Cuizon has lived here since birth, and has raised her own family of eleven children here. She recalls the effect of flooding years prior, early in the evening: “I was pregnant at the time, and it was raining but there wasn’t any flooding yet. I was crossing the street, on my way home with rice for my family, when we were hit by a flash flood, and the surge of the water was so strong that the force brought me to my knees. I fell into an opening in the road and one of my older kids had to pick me up, before we knew it we were surrounded by water. I began to cry, because I didn’t know what to do,” says Cuizon. “My husband found some rope. We imagined that what happened in Tacloban was about to happen to us, that everything we knew was about to be destroyed. So we decided that not just one of us was going to perish; it should be all of us together. So we tied ourselves together using the rope, and my husband said, ‘If we die, we die together.’ One of my kids broke through the roof so we could sit up there while the water rose around us, and I called on all the saints and the angels to help us.” No one had told them where to go or what to do in the event of a natural disaster, and there had been no warning about the necessity to evacuate. Had this happened in the evening, when it was dark out or with low visibility, the situation could have worsened exponentially
Though Cuizon’s family mercifully survived without fatalities, the days that followed were rough. They were soaking wet from prolonged exposure to the rain, all their belongings—including stored food and slippers—were ruined by the flood. They made it to the church, which had become an evacuation center, crossing the overflowing, rubble-riddled streets barefoot. There they found hundreds of families like themselves. “One of our neighbors showed up so distressed. She had crossed the small river next to her house and she didn’t even realize that the current had taken her skirt. I had to make sure there were clothes and food for my kids so that they wouldn’t get sick. I didn’t care if I was soaked through, as long as my children were provided for.”
Cuizon adds that the trauma of the experience left them on high alert. “Once the sky would darken, we resolved not to leave the house and to stay together, especially if there was any chance of rain. We wouldn’t sleep much, we would just watch the sky and wait.”
Carcar City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) officer Kim Lauron also discusses the struggle from the city’s end. He says that for a long time, they depended on forecasts from PAGASA and DOST. In the event of incoming severe weather, they would monitor the news and updates, and any indication that evacuation might be a possibility had to be communicated in person. Lauron explains, “We would have to go to the area to make the public address, while my staff is limited in number. It takes a lot of manpower to disseminate the information in the area.” This also meant that for a significant time prior to the onslaught of any severe weather situation, the entire DRRM office was out, unable to monitor any further changes or prepare whatever needed to be prepared as the focus was information dissemination.
Year in and year out, the entire country is exposed to severe weather and natural disasters, which more often than not yield high fatalities. Communities such as Poblacion I in Carcar, due to their location, are predisposed to hazards such as landslides, mudslides, flash floods, and high waters. In the event of calamity, sick and disabled members are understandably seen as the most vulnerable, but like Cuizon and her family, women and children, especially girls are also often at high risk. According to the research conducted by the team behind the Intelligent Flood Warning and Monitoring System, they have identified that 70% of women are unable to enact preventive measures in securing properties. Children ages 4 to 8 are at a 60% risk of drowning in floodwaters, with 75% of that number being girl children from ages 4 to 6.
While local government units (LGUs) have their own DRRM measures in place, the lack of forward-looking technology in its implementation works against them. Specifically in Carcar, it is most visible that where time is of the essence, much is spent on activity that could easily be solved with the use of technology, instead of using the time for the DRRM efforts to maximize all manner of preparation. This takes the proactive nature of these efforts, making them more reactive instead, scrambling to keep up against any onslaught and heightening the presence of unnecessary risk.
Robotics professor and ECE Jonathan Cartilla says he had “a seed of imagination.” Cartilla was inspired by the game of basketball, specifically the last two minutes of the quarter. “That’s when you see players elbowing one another, running faster than ever, because they know how little time is left. They’re all thinking, ‘What can I do to maximize the time available?’”
The Intelligent Flood Warning and Monitoring System is solar-powered, and is equipped with a sensor that detects the vertical rise of water below. Based on the rising speed, the system is programmed to calculate when the water will possibly overflow into its surroundings, and consequently, how much lead time those nearby have to evacuate. It then broadcasts this information with pre-recorded announcements, made in the local dialect, an imperative feature for communicating with as many residents as possible within the vicinity. Cartila says, “Even children who haven’t yet received a formal education will understand these announcements, because it’s in the dialect that they speak.”
Cartilla emphasizes that the core of the project is the value of having lead time. “Other systems have used sirens, which are effective because everyone understands it’s a warning, but it doesn’t tell you how much time is left,” explains Cartilla. He also says that a siren can ingrain a certain amount of time in people’s minds based on a previous experience. “If it rings once and the flood arrives in twenty minutes, people will think that’s how much time is left every single time in rings. But what if what’s coming is a flash flood? You expect to have 20 minutes, but are caught in a flood in five.” It is for this reason that the announcements are broken down in increments of minutes, as well as an appropriate response for the amount of time left. For instance, it will announce that because flood will make contact in 20 minutes, children should return to their homes and all belongings should be secured. It is also meant to dictate the priority of evacuation, using the lead time to make sure the persons with disability, the elderly, those who are pregnant or have small children are brought to safety well before disaster strikes.
The system can similarly be used by LGUs for public address, to further coordinate especially during times of necessary evacuation, and can be programmed to send text blasts. It is especially made to function regardless of neighboring conditions, and can transmit when electricity is shot and mobile networks are down.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
Cartilla and his team highlight the community’s enthusiasm to be involved in the development of the project, to the point that they had to filter the suggestions down to the most pressing concerns and the most feasible applications. Some of the most notable pivots due to community input had an impact on the system’s overall design. The original idea for the system was just to have a metal closet sitting by the edge of the river, but because the team was told in focus group discussions that the river tends to overflow, they changed the design to be elevated by a few more feet.
Local residents were also concerned about the exposure of the solar panels to debris, and so the solution was to place a cage with a screen overlay around the power source. The screen, however, casts a shadow that decreases the efficacy of the battery altogether. It was then decided to up the capacity of the panels from 50 watts to 100, and to increase the overall battery capacity. This enables the system to store more energy and function even during days-long overcast spells.
As for visual references and warnings, the team integrated two solutions upon the community’s request: a floodlight for overall visual reference especially during limited light conditions, and a color-coded lighting system for the hearing-impaired. The latter uses yellow, orange, and red lights, with red indicating the need for immediate evacuation. This feature is equally helpful to residents who aren’t disabled in times of violent thrashing of trees and surroundings, when audio clarity is compromised.
The integration of a public address system came at the request of the city’s DRRM office, which Cartilla and his team were happy to accommodate. “Off-the-shelf products aren’t customized, and it might be functional but it won’t give us our desired outcome,” says Cartilla. “Research and development is really a process. Our technical abilities and the residents’ experience hopefully gives them an end product that they can fully take advantage of.”
DRRM officer Lauron says that the presence of the innovation has drastically changed the approach to DRRM within the community, empowering his previously limited office in its capacity. He explains, “Instead of rescuing everyone because they received the news too late, we’re able to come to the area and assist only the few who stayed behind to watch over their homes or who didn’t have any prior assistance.” He adds that having the system within the community has created the opportunity to engage the residents in simulated evacuation drills, which prior had only been basic orientations on where the pick-up points were and where local evacuation centers were located.
“We weren’t bothered about preparing for disasters before, because our homes are on higher ground. But after our experience, we realized that anyone can be affected by disaster and we all see the importance of having a device like this,” says community member Cuizon. Residents as observed during the drill became more responsive and felt more secure with eh aid of the device especially at night time. She says her neighbors and the members of the community were very welcoming of the innovation, and appreciated being involved in its development. Not only were they asked for their input, but they were physically involved in painting and assembling parts of the device, which gives the community a true sense of ownership. Cuizon adds that they have pledged to Cartilla and his team that the device will remain in good hands once it is turned over to the community.
Cartilla expresses a great desire for the innovation to scale upwards. Currently, it monitors the vertical rise of water, but he hopes to implement an expansion detecting its horizontal approach. The two together would make for a much more powerful system, particularly with the detection of flash floods.
Until that is possible, however, the innovator has partnered with the Carcar City LGU and Barangay Poblacion I and II for at least six months to a year in order to further develop the existing system to its best operational capacity. Local disaster response protocols have also been customized to integrate the innovation, upon the recommendations of both the community and the DRRM office, which the innovator hopes to further assess in terms of its effectivity.
They are currently linked with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and well as the Institute of Electronic Engineers of the Philippines (IECEP) to further their plans of sustainability. But it is also their hope to seek further partnerships with LGUs, NGOs and private sectors particularly concerned with flood mitigation and management.
Cartilla says, “The desire to help is innate in all of us. If we see others suffering, and all we say is, ‘How awful for them’ but we aren’t part of the solution, then we become part of the problem. If you come upon an idea that is truly helpful for others, you have to exhaust every means until it becomes a reality.”