How a low-tech mobile app is changing the way Indonesia responds to disasters


Aceh after the quakeSitting between two of the world’s most active seismic plates, Indonesia is struck with over five light earthquakes on a daily basis. Photo: Wahyu Wening

Did you know that nearly eight out of ten Indonesians have access to cell phones?

We are talking about over 230 million people across three time zones and out of those users; around 61 million are connected to the Internet via their phones. This impressively high number presents an opportunity to enhance disaster risk management in Indonesia, already a world leader in producing evidence based information systems, planning and monitoring tools.

Indeed, when UNDP and the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) were searching for the most reliable communication platform to circulate post-disaster real-time data, mobile phone applications became our top choice.

The need to provide post-disaster real-time data couldn’t be more urgent for a huge archipelagic country like Indonesia; so we jointly developed a snappy mobile app called the Post-Disaster Assessment Decision Support System (PDNA-DSS)

According to risk analysis firm, Maplecroft, Indonesia has been cited as one of the ‘high risk’ countries to destructive natural hazards. Sitting between two of the world’s most active seismic plates, Indonesia is struck with over five light earthquakes on a daily basis. In December 2004, a quake-triggered tsunami ravaged parts of Aceh province in Sumatra Island, killing at least 170,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands others.

Hence, reliable real-time data on post disaster information will help ensure a well-targeted and speedy response to future disasters in Indonesia, which in turn, will save lives and money.

In 2011, the Government of Indonesia launched the country’s first ever disaster assessment guidelines, otherwise known as the PDNA. The guidelines have become the reference point for post disaster relief experts in carrying out their duties.  The next challenge however was to find a rapid, and accurate system of data collection and analysis.

Post-disasters’ data collection in Indonesia involves a vast pool of relief personnel, university volunteers and local community. During this critical period, everyone is pressed to gather and analyze data in the most efficient manner. These enumerators – or those who compile the list of destruction and casualties – must immediately feed the information in a matter of seconds.

This is where the mobile phone application comes handy.
Thanks to the mobile phone application, enumerators can now seamlessly click in real-time data straight from the disaster-hit areas. Those data will be sent to out the data analysts and to those who are in charge of taking immediate action to help out the victims

This app has been tested numerous times, using various scenarios of disasters and is available through Android systems (Android OS), one of the commonly used mobile phone operating systems in the country.

People throughout this archipelagic country are using their cell phones for a variety of purposes, - from taking ‘selfies’ to checking the latest news.  Take a look at random public eateries in big cities in Indonesia and you would find that most people are glued to the glowing little screens.

What better way is there to send post-disaster information - to save lives and money - than through a device that most Indonesians are so attached to?

Blog post Asia & the Pacific Disaster risk management Innovation Indonesia

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