THE Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has developed an early warning system against storm surges.

When tropical storm Domeng hit the country last April, DOST’s Project NOAH released storm surge warnings, which were updated every six hours.

At one point, storm surge warnings were raised in at least 14 towns in Cebu, forecasting surges with heights of .5 to .63 meters.

A storm surge is the sudden rise of sea water generated by an approaching storm, over and above the tide level.

Project NOAH, which stands for Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, is DOST’s flagship disaster research program.

The early warning system for storm surge did not come about only after super typhoon Yolanda.

According to Dr. Mahar Lagmay, executive director of Project NOAH, storm surges were predicted two days before Yolanda. The warnings were broadcast over media the night before the typhoon made landfall.

“Unfortunately, (the advanced warnings) were not translated into appropriate action in every coastal village in the Central Philippines region,” Lagmay wrote in a study Project NOAH conducted after the typhoon.

Simulations

Project NOAH has run over 4,000 storm surge simulations nationwide, with the wind speed or strength of Yolanda as the baseline.

Based on the simulations, coastal areas in central Visayas—including Cebu—southern Luzon, and northeastern Mindanao are the ones most vulnerable to high storm surges.

Storm surge inundation maps created based on the simulations can be used by local government units to develop a “risk sensitive land use plan” that will help them identify appropriate areas to build residential buildings, evacuation sites and other important facilities.

“The maps can also be used to develop a disaster response plan and evacuation scheme,” read a study of Project NOAH.

A storm surge inundation map has been developed for Bantayan Island, one of the areas hardest hit by typhoon Yolanda, as well as other municipalities in Cebu.

In addition to public storm signal warnings, the DOST has come up with new protocols to warn residents against a possible storm surge 48 hours before it hits, and also against flood.

Surges, floods

Under the protocol, Storm Surge Advisory (SSA) 1 will be raised in areas where a storm surge with a height of up to two meters may hit; SSA 2 in areas where the storm surge will be up to five meters high; and SSA 3 in areas where a storm surge of more than five meters is expected.

For flood, Flood Advisory (FA) 1 would indicate rainfall of up to 129 millimeters is expected within the next 24 hours; FA 2, up to 190 millimeters of rainfall is forecast; and FA 3, up to 240 millimeters of rainfall is forecast.

Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo and Lagmay of Project NOAH proposed the new protocols during a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III last February.

Part of the challenge is communicating the warnings about rough weather to communities, not all of which are constantly connected to mainstream and social media.

Last September, the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (PDRRM) Office started using Info Board, a free communication system courtesy of Smart Communications, where all enrolled Smart cell numbers can regularly receive text messages on weather updates.

Talking about the weather

“We capture the weather warnings from Pagasa, then send these by text-blast to all,” said PDRRM Executive Director Wilson Ramos. (Pagasa stands for the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.)

The Info Board also connects the PDRRM to all barangays and the DRRM officers in the local governments to warn them of impending storms, heavy rains and floods.

Ver Neil Balaba, chief of the technical support division of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), said that in the past, local governments were not as serious in implementing the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 or Republic Act 10121.

“But now they are compelled to do this because of what happened after Yolanda,” Balaba said.

The law provides for a fine of P50,000 to P500,000 or jail time of six to 12 years for public officials whose “dereliction of duties leads to destruction, loss of lives, critical damage to facilities and misuse of funds.”

Bogo City, for its part, is now equipped with an Automated Weather System, donated by the Weather Philippines Foundation Inc. (WPFI).

The AWS, made by Lufft in Germany, can measure solar radiation, wind direction and speed, temperature, pressure, humidity and rain. It is reportedly worth $2,500 to $3,000.

Ben Frederick Rodriguez, disaster management officer of the Bogo City Government, said they will still follow Pagasa’s weather forecasts and advisories. But if they fail to gain access to it, Bogo will rely on the AWS, which provides localized weather updates every hour.

Bogo City Mayor Celestino “Junie” Martinez Jr. has issued a memorandum asking all 29 barangays to spread the weather advisories to their constituents.

The City Government has also sorted out a plan in case of a storm surge and have identified the families that may be affected, as well as designated evacuation areas.

“Cooperation na lang sa tawo atong kinahanglan (All we need is the people’s cooperation),” Martinez added.