News | April 6, 2017

People living in the Philippines are frequently exposed to natural threats, such as typhoons, floods and volcanic eruptions. The Philippines is the fourth most disaster-prone country in the world, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Enhancing disaster preparedness, management and response is therefore critical in reducing vulnerability. Although government produces disaster preparedness materials, information and communication gaps continue to exist.

For example, most residents living in highly vulnerable areas such as those near the shoreline do not understand technical words like ‘storm surges,’ hence they hesitate to follow government directives to evacuate before typhoons hit their area. Coordination between the government and the communities is also a challenge exacerbated by a communications system that needs to be enhanced further.

Given these challenges, a team of young innovators developed a platform named Balangay - a disaster preparedness mobile application that aims to connect vulnerable people to information that can save their lives before and during the disaster.

Developing the Balangay platform

The project team designed an open, cloud-based information system to improve the implementation and accountability of disaster preparedness, response and relief actions in the province of Albay. This system is a public resource on disaster information. It teaches citizens in the simplest possible way about disaster-related information, preparing families for earthquakes, floods and typhoons. It also provides a real-time platform for reliable communication between local government units, NGOs and affected communities during emergencies.

We translated the articles to Tagalog because a lot of users do not understand English very well. We used Facebook integration because we want to leverage its ‘free-data’ programme. - Maria Jihan “Frei” Sangil, innovator

Because of the user friendly interface and translation of information into local languages, communities are now using the innovation. Since no fees are charged to download the application and information from the website, more people have access to accurate and useful Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) information. The mobile application can be accessed offline as well.

What changed?

Adoption of the innovation. The City Government of Legazpi were convinced that Balangay was a vital tool to use, hence adopted it and contracted the Balangay team for one year to start a government-owned innovation and data research centre.

The government is also using Balangay to disseminate disaster-related information that citizens have limited access to. It has also become a platform to increase citizens’ understanding of scientific terms using simple words and pictures.

Balangay has helped the City of Legazpi improve disaster vulnerability by bridging the information gap between disaster information providers and vulnerable communities.

Ignyte 2

The use of Balangay as a disaster information resource has helped students with school lessons on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM). By August 2016, there was a total of 320 downloads, 229 active users, and an average of 264 daily website hits.

The Ignyte team also worked with the private sector to develop a proposal for a three-year smart city transformation project called “Cloud Legazpi,” where they used Balangay as their proof of concept.

Through Balangay, Legazpi City was awarded the Best in Customer Empowerment (G2C) during the 5th E -Gov Awards in 2016. The G2C category recognizes the measurable effect of Local Government Units outstanding practices using ICT solutions in education and engagement of the public and in the use of electronic facilities and channels towards providing improved, timely and relevant delivery of public services.

What did we learn?

Forging relationships between citizens, CSOs, the private sector, and government is critical for adoption of any new technology. The team spent time to build trust between them, the government officials and private sector which in turn, helped them to better understand the government and private sector and invent an application that suit their needs.

Securing stakeholder buy-in was the greatest challenge. Government and community elders were not comfortable using the technology. However the Balangay team had to re-strategize and key messages had to be revised.

Understanding your target audience is crucial for acceptance, use and adoption.  For Balangay, simplifying technical terms and translating into local language increased use by the local communities. The application was introduced through fun activities (info tents) that engaged both young and old.

Ignyte Innovations Lab received the support of £40,000 from Making All Voices Count. The innovation project was implemented from July 2015 to July 2016.