When an earthquake hit the town of Lorca in Spain, an urban planner and a software developer got together to develop a better system to map vulnerabilities, damage and the necessary response. “SGE 2.0” has just been tested a second time during floods in the same region. It is open source
, based on WordPress and free.
SGE 2.0 helps people survey streets and houses, either as part of a disaster preparedness programme or to map damage and coordinate relief efforts after a disaster. It is both a web based platform and a mobile phone application with different target audiences.
Incident and work order management tool
The web based platform is used to enter reports that reach emergency services, for example through call centres, for work order management, analysis and statistics. It is also where municipalities can access the information and for example issue certificates that affected people can then use to support their insurance claims.
The system also contains building records that can be accessed and downloaded to mobile phones in the case of an emergency and serves as database to store information on how for example different architects have fixed damage to affected buildings. Last but not least, the web portal can also be used to record available good and materials and try to match them to needs.
When needs have been recorded, registered users who are able to serve these needs can “check out” tasks, which then disappear from the view of everyone else’s to-do list.
Mobile data capture before and after a disaster
The mobile phone app serves three purposes:
Prior to a disaster, it can be used to create building records that include basic information such as the number of floors, the type of construction, whether it is a residential or commercial property as well as the specific vulnerabilities of the building. Photos can also be attached to each report.
In an emergency, the app is used to document the type of damage and the kind of assistance that is needed. This information is not collected from the general public, but submitted by trained staff or volunteers. If mobile phone networks are available, the app transmits the information instantly to the server. If mobile phone networks are down, the data is stored on the phone and uploaded as soon as the phone is within range of a wifi network that is connected to the server. I was really glad to see offline use as one of the features of SGE 2.0, since many developers still assume that you’ll have 3G after a major disaster.
Obviously this app is going to be more useful if baseline data has been collected previous to the emergency and can be downloaded to the phones, but I really like how this system can be used irrespective of whether previous information is available.
The data can also be mapped in real-time so that a city manager can see whether certain parts of the city have been hit more severely than others.
Are you ok?
The third use of the mobile phone app (and I think it is actually a different app that is connected to the same system) is to help with “safe and well” messages. In an emergency the city manager can trigger the app remotely, so that the phone can only be used again once the owner has answered the question “Are you ok? Yes/No.” All responses are geo-referenced so that it is easy to see in which area many people are ok and whether there are “black holes” where nobody is responding from. The “I’m ok status” is also visible to other app-users with whom the person is connected. That way everybody can quickly see very quickly whether friends and family are ok.
I think SGE 2.0 contains a lot of smart ideas, but what probably gives it a bigger impact than similar initiatives is that the developers work closely with the Spanish municipalities, which increases the likelihood that the system will actually be used.
I also think it’s nice to see a system that is developed in a language other than English, though an English version is being developed.
My main criticism is that a lot of elements of the system are very text-heavy. However, the developers explained to me, that they are currently working on a new version that will contain more images and icons, which will make it more suitable for disasters in countries with low literacy.
As mentioned above, SGE 2.0 is
developed on WordPress and free and open source.
Update 09 July 2013: The developers clarified that SGE 2.0 is based on the same philosophy as WordPress, but it is not actually based on WordPress.