Tikod: Empowering vulnerable communities via off-grid information exchange service
Barangays 85, 88 and 90 in San Jose District of Tacloban City
Noel Elizaga; Virgildo Sabalo; Eulito Casas, Jr.; Salvador Santiago, Jr.
Tikod Messenger is a tech-based, solar-powered information exchange system that communities can activate once the commercial telecommunications systems shut down during disasters. At normal times, the system collects environment data which can be used as support to community decision making, policy formulation, and planning processes.
Having scaled the worthiness of the system in peace and during disasters, the team envisions full appreciation of urgency among government and non-government organizations in advancing vulnerable communities to adopt Tikod Information Exchange Service before the next disaster strikes.
CONNECT WITH US!
The team is open for partnership with local government units (LGUs) and funding agencies to mainstream Tikod Information Exchange Service to other disaster-affected areas. The team has a vast expertise and pool of partners that can guarantee effective ground implementation of the service as well as provision of optimal support to LGUs in setting plans for disaster preparedness.
When we were waiting for relief during Yolanda (IN: ST Haiyan), we made a sign saying "We need food, we need water, we need shelter, we need help."
Having the app, we have a direct line to the government and to NGOs, and we’re able to tell them exactly what they need so they can acquire and prepare it and distribute that accordingly. We face a lot of disasters in this area, and to stay alert, we need a way to communicate and have access to information at any given time.
The Survival Information Kit is designed to build a community-based network in times of disasters, using a system of long-range transmitters and solar-powered antennas. This is partnered with a mobile messenger app called Tikod, which can be accessed on Android devices. Together, these create a mesh network among neighboring barangays, ensuring that survivors are able to communicate and have access to pertinent, life-saving information even in the absence of electrical, cellular, and data services.
When super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in November 2013, the world watched as took the city of Tacloban in its grip and flattened it to the ground. Yolanda tore through the city with 185 kmph winds and up to 19-foot storm surges, leaving a rate of 90% destruction of the city’s infrastructures in her wake. The number of dead and missing was so large it could not be approximated until two years later, when Philippine Red Cross estimated the number of all missing persons at 22,000.
Because the impact of Yolanda was so unprecedented, even local evacuation centers and medical treatment facilities did not anticipate the level of preparation and vigilance necessary to survive. Hospitals ran out of basic medicines and supplies within hours of the onslaught, tending especially to the gravely wounded and affected. Tacloban City Convention Center experienced tragic flooding of its entire first floor, already filled with evacuee, due to the unforeseen storm surge that flooded much more quickly than anyone knew how to react. Those who did not drown in this instance were injured.
Jason, a member of the Sangguniang Kabataan in Barangay 85, says that during the onslaught, most of the people in his neighborhood evacuated to San Jose Elementary School. “We thought it would just be another storm, which we get here all the time. We watched the water outside, and it was as though it wouldn’t stop rising. I was assisting kids and elderly who couldn’t swim against the current and bringing them to buildings with higher floors. My family was separated and I didn’t know where anyone was or if they were still alive.” Jason said that once the coast was clear, he searched for his family, only to find that many of them were severely wounded. They wandered aimlessly looking for help and supplies, until they resorted to looting the last standing warehouses. It would be three days until any outside assistance would enter the city. Before they were able to receive news by word of mouth that relief was available, Jason and his family survived sleeping standing upright, barely eating any meals, and wearing the same clothes from when the onslaught began.
Elsewhere in the city, team leader Noel Elizaga was also evacuating his home together with his family. Various sharp debris from broken glass and other household objects whipped against those trying to make their way to safety due to strong winds, Elizaga included. Within two days of evacuation, he began to feel feverish, indicating that he had sustained some sort of infectious. “I wanted to receive an anti-tetanus shot, so we walked two to three kilometers away to the nearest hospital. Normally, it would be a ten-minute drive, but it took us 3 hours to walk there because of all the debris and the condition of the roads at the time. Upon reaching the hospital, we found that there was no more supply of anti-tetanus shots. All they could offer me was Betadine to disinfect my wounds, and I stayed overnight with only a bottle of water to help my fever go down.” He adds, “Had I known what the case was in that hospital, I would have made better use of my time going to a different medical facility which may have had what I needed. Or I would have saved my energy altogether.”
On the end of the LGUs, the experience was equally harrowing. Then captain of Barangay 90, Salvador Santiago Jr., said that two days before the onslaught, CDRRM informed them of what might happen. They evacuated as much of the neighborhood as they could to the Tacloban City Convention Center. The night before, Mayor Romualdez came to Santiago’s place of residence and said that everyone who stayed in the area were at risk of being hit by storm surge, as Barangay 90 was located right by the sea. Santiago, not having any real idea of what a storm surge was, followed instructions and evacuated those who had stayed behind. By 7AM the next day, the water had risen ten feet. Santiago’s elderly father, who lived in the same residence, had previously suffered a stroke and had to be carried to higher ground. “I took his oxygen tank with the idea of tying him onto it in case we needed to float him through the flood. There was nothing we could do, and I kept thinking, ‘If this water rises any more, we’re all dead.’
Lack of information during disasters, when resources are scarce and needs are extremely high, can have lethal consequences. From the individual level of survivors trying to find lost family members, supplies, or aid, to LGUs and relief operations trying to communicate to survivors or communicate outward for more pressing needs, a general lack of information can serve as a huge obstacle in making life-saving decisions.
Modern means of communication—landlines, cell phones, two-way radios—are the first to suffer during natural disasters, when service is unavailable and the lack of electricity means devices cannot be charged once the battery runs out. In the case of Tacloban, especially, all mobile communication and phone service was unavailable for 5 days following Yolanda. This made all survivors reliant on news relayed by word of mouth, with no way to verify how trustworthy the information might be. This also meant that survivors who had been separated from loved ones had no way of knowing who had survived, and if they had, whether or not they were safe.
“My experience at the hospital haunted me, and inspired me to come up with a design that would be useful in helping others avoid experiencing the same things in the event of a disaster,” says Elizaga. Because of this and his teammates’ similar experiences in the devastation of Yolanda, together they conceptualized the Survival Information Kit.
The kit includes a stationary module, pocket long-range modules, and basic Android phone units. The pocket modules are able to withstand one week of continuous use before the need for charging, whereas the stationary module is equipped with a solar power source. The survivors are meant to assemble and install the stationary module after an onslaught, creating an antenna through which the long-range pocket modules—ideally placed within evacuation centers—may be able to transmit messages. The messages are sent through a mobile messenger app called Tikod, which in Waray means “heel,” in reference to the shape of the geographical location in which the system was developed.
Tikod is designed specifically to work with this kit, in that it connects to the nearest available pocket module. Once connected, one can send private messages to another person on Tikod, without the need for cellular services or WiFi, within up to a two-kilometer distance in open areas. The more there are neighboring barangays are equipped with similar technology, it then creates a kind of mesh network where barangays are able to communicate what they need, who is in need, what help can be extended outwards, and what official news must be relayed.
The Tikod app also features a public lobby, where announcements can be made as one would through a text blast, and can be used by DRRM efforts or by individuals calling out for help. There is also a feature called the Survivor Wall, where survivors can post a message to loved ones outside of the affected area within the offline app. The app stores the Survivor Wall posts and waits for the lowest possible mobile connection to transmit it to the cloud, which then uploads onto the website Tikod.ph. Thus, a digital wall is created, where those far and wide can search for first-hand updates from their loved ones despite the limitations of post-disaster communications facilities.
When the stationary module is on standby, it collects environmental information, gathering data on emerging weather patterns and their impact. It is then collated and likewise uploaded to the cloud, which can later be accessed also through Tikod.ph. This will be especially useful for decision-makers in future planning for the communities involved, not only in the field of DRRM, but in urban planning and sustainable livelihoods.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
Before the team could even begin to fully develop the innovation, they conducted focus group discussions with the pilot communities. They asked disaster survivors what they would have wanted in a communication system and what information they thought would have been important to have in order to facilitate a less painful recovery after the deluge. The main feedback of the communities was to have the information exchange system available mainly at evacuation centers, through which majority of relief courses through in the first place and where most families and individuals seek refuge.
On the part of the barangay, there is massive relief that a reliable and trustworthy means of communicating with the locals and with one another as LGUs. The possibility of keeping each other immediately abreast with the running inventory of medical and other supplies, being able to redirect the injured and severely ill to facilities which can better serve them, being able to broadcast the need to move to higher ground or re-evacuate to other facilities in the event of an evacuation center being compromised, are examples of time and life-saving uses of the innovation. Santiago reiterates that aside from the ability to communicate, the kit is able to provide the invaluable: verification of information. “With this equipment, this in itself serves as proof that what we are communicating is true and correct. Unlike times before, when this equipment was not available to us, all sorts of news would come through and no one knew what to believe. In times of disaster, when you are desperate and have lost everything, news of relief or progress that is untrue can be soul-crushing,” says Santiago.
“When we were waiting for relief during Yolanda, we made a sign saying ‘We need food, we need water, we need shelter, we need help,’” SK member Jason recounts. “Having the app, we have a direct line to the government and to NGOs, and we’re able to tell them exactly what they need so they can acquire and prepare it and distribute that accordingly. We face a lot of disasters in this area, and to stay alert, we need a way to communicate and have access to information at any given time.” He concludes, “If we had Tikod during Yolanda, maybe less people would have died.
Elizaga and his team are in the process of refining the physical product: re-drawing the system architecture for further improvements and miniaturizing the modules into as compact a form as possible, for more foolproof usage by survivors and possibly cut production costs.
They are also drawing up plans to scale the project upward into a social enterprise, and attracting both LGUs and partner investors for the next phases of the project. Likewise, they are in the process of identifying intellectual assets for registry at the Intellectual Property Office.