Disseminating near real-time hazards information and flood maps in the Philippines through Web-GIS

(Published in 2012. Some of the data, facts and figures in this paper may have been updated.)

Alfredo Mahar Francisco A. Lagmay, Ph.D.
National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines
C.P. Garcia cor. Velasquez Street, UP Diliman, Q.C.


The Philippines being a locus of typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, is a hotbed of disasters. Natural hazards inflict loss of lives and costly damage to property.  Situated in a region where climate and geophysical tempest is common, the Philippines will inevitably suffer from calamities similar to those experienced recently. With continued development and population growth in hazard prone areas, it is expected that damage to infrastructure and human losses would persist and even rise unless appropriate measures are immediately implemented by government. Recently, the Philippines put in place a responsive program called the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH) for disaster prevention and mitigation, specifically for government warning agencies to be able to provide a 6 hour lead-time warning to vulnerable communities against impending floods and to use advanced technology to enhance current geo-hazard vulnerability maps.  To disseminate such critical information to as wide an audience as possible, a web-GIS using mashups of freely available source codes and application program interface (APIs) was developed and can be found in the URL http://www.noah.dost.gov.ph. This web-GIS tool is now heavily used by local government units in the Philippines in their disaster prevention and mitigation efforts and can be replicated in countries that have a proactive approach to address the impacts of natural hazards but lack sufficient funds.


A societal problem that persists necessitates an immediate solution if the very nature of the community’s existence is in peril.  Year after year, the Philippines gets devastated by calamities that result in numerous loss of lives, damage to property and economic losses by the billions. In 2011 alone the Philippines was hit by at least 3 devastating storms eroding progress on poverty reduction and developmental gains in the country. Washi (local name Sendong) and its consequent floods, killed 1,257, injured 6,071, and affected 1,141,252 families in Luzon (ADRC, 2011). Months prior to Sendong, the typhoon tandem of Nesat (local name Pedring) and Nalgae (local name Quiel) inflicted 102 fatalities and ravaged crops and infrastructure worth more than PhP15 billion (NDRRMC, 2011a, NDRRMC, 2011b, Elona, 2011). Earlier this year in February, a strong local earthquake shook Negros and Cebu in Central Philippines leaving 51 dead and 62 missing with total damage amounting to PhP363.5 million (NDRRMC, 2011c). Deaths were attributed mainly to landslides triggered by the temblor. The problem of climate- and geophysical– related disasters is a perennial problem in the Philippines and requires swift and immediate action to mitigate its impacts. The human and financial cost of these disasters is high and all possible means of addressing the problem need to be explored with new approaches in the disaster effort, tested.

This paper elucidates the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards or Project NOAH which will undertake disaster science research development, advance the use of cutting edge technologies and recommend innovative information services in government’s disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.  Through the use of science and technology and in partnership with the academe and other stakeholders, the Department of Sciences and Technology (DOST) takes a multidisciplinary approach in developing systems, tools, and other technologies that could be used by the government, in particular the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Office of Civil Defense, in its battle against the adverse impacts of extreme natural events. By investing in new technologies and new scientific approaches to disaster mitigation, Project NOAH seeks to enhance disaster management and prevention capacity of the Philippines.

Initial efforts of Project NOAH include: deployment of weather-related sensors; deployment of earthquake sensors; use of state-of-the-art methods to construct high-resolution flood and landslide hazard maps that are relevant to the community; delivery of readily accessible, timely and accurate hazards information through various media and communication platforms; multidisciplinary disaster research and development; integration of disaster efforts by the national government, academe, civil society organizations and private sector; empowerment of Local Government Units (LGUs) and communities by providing access to near real-time data and information; and application of a bottom-up disaster prevention approach for more resilient communities.


State-of-the-art technologies

 Lidar and Radar-derived topography

In terms of disaster management strategies, high resolution hazard maps (1:5,000 to 1:25,000 scale) topographic maps or cadastral level maps are very important (EXCIMAP, 2007). This is because members of the public are more interested in disaster risk that directly applies to them and become aware of the hazards problems in their community with such type of maps. Getting individuals to identify with the problem is a key element since awareness is the first step towards building disaster resilient communities. High-resolution charts also provide more detailed scientific analysis of natural hazard phenomena, before, during and after the disaster event. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of 1:5,000 to 1:25,000 scale base maps of the Philippines to build on.

To address the problem of lack of available high resolution topographic maps for most the Philippines, Project NOAH will acquire geospatial data through Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and high resolution remote sensing to cover the 300,000 sq. km land area of the country (Paringit, 2012).  Lidar shall be used to generate high resolution and up-to-date detailed national elevation dataset maps at 1:5,000 scale with 50 cm horizontal and 20 cm vertical resolution of the lowlands.  Radar remote sensing shall be used to provide at least 1:25,000 scale hydro-corrected topographic maps of the mountainous areas with less than 10 m horizontal resolution and less than 4 m vertical accuracy.

 1D and 2D flood simulations

Once the high resolution topographic maps are made available, flood simulations using HEC-HMS, Flo2D and ISIS 2D will be used to simulate one-dimensional channel flow and two dimensional floodplain inundation maps. The Hydrologic Modeling System or HEC-HMS is designed to simulate the precipitation-runoff processes of dendritic watershed systems. Hydrographs produced by the program are used directly or in conjunction with other software for studies of water availability, urban drainage, flow forecasting, future urbanization impact, reservoir spillway design, flood damage reduction, floodplain regulation, and systems operation (US Army Corps of Engineers, 2012). Discharge rates collected from the HEC-HMS software for Rainfall Intensity Duration Frequency (RIDF) data (PAGASA) and historical as well as real-time rainfall data shall be used as an input parameter for 2D flood modeling using Flo2D, (Obrien, 2009) and ISIS 2D/ISIS FAST (Halcrow, 2012).

 Estimation of rainfall probability

The percent chance of rain (PCOR) or probability of rain is calculated using processed infrared and water vapor satellite image data and Doppler data obtained at near-real time in combination with statistical evaluation of historical rainfall. Forecasts of the percent chance of rain are based on these sources as well as an algorithm for cloud trajectory prediction using image processing techniques based on the ForTraCC method.  The PCOR is calculated every 30 minutes for all major cities of the country. The forecast is done for 1, 2, 3 and 4 hours lead time (David, 2011).

 Weather Sensors

As part of the Development of Hybrid Weather Monitoring System and Production of Weather and Rain Automated Stations Project of DOST-ASTII, locally-made Automated Weather Stations (AWS) and Automated Rain Gauges have been installed in key areas across the country to complement PAGASA’s weather monitoring facilities (ASTI, 2011). Currently there are 77 AWS stations and 81 ARGs from DOST-ASTI that stream data every 15 minutes to the Project NOAH website. Another 600 AWS sensor are scheduled for deployment in strategic sites.

The AWS are monitoring stations equipped with different sensors capable of measuring wind speed and direction, air temperature, air humidity, air pressure, and rain amount, duration and intensity. ARG stations only measure rainfall amount and intensity. The weather data are sent wirelessly through the cellular network as a text message through Short Messaging Service (SMS). Card slots within the digital box are also in place for possible upgrade of the system to have an Iridium satellite backup and radio communication capabilities (Guba, 2012).  Each station is equipped with the ASTI-developed data-logger platform GSM Data Acquisition Terminal (GDAT) that serves as the central processing unit that intelligently controls all the functions and data communications of the station. Designed to be rugged and standalone, the station can be deployed even in the harshest remote areas and can operate continuously. The instrument gets power from the sun and is backed up by the internal rechargeable battery. All weather data from the remote stations are collected on a central database server and further analyzed (ASTI, 2011).

Water level sensors

Standalone Water Level Sensors (WLS) have been deployed along the Marikina River in 2010 for the rehabilitation of the Effective Flood Control Operation System (EFCOS) of the MMDA. The WLS is equipped with a solar panel and makes use of an ultrasonic sensor to measure the rate of change of water level using the principle similar to radar and sonar. The sensor calculates the time interval between sending the signal and receiving the echo to determine the water level. The data collected are then transmitted to a central server at a predefined interval, via SMS and are streamed into the NOAH website every 10 minutes (Guba, 2012).

Crowd Sourcing

A system has been developed for receiving, processing and visualizing spatiotemporal data allowing concerned citizens to provide and view flood data on a map. The system supports automation of data processing for filtering reports of flood events. Also in the system are clustering and aggregation of flood data entries with the option of adding arbitrary attributes, which allow better visualization of inundation in areas swamped by floods (Lagmay et al, this issue). The Flood Reporting and Mapping System is an easy to use visualization tool, important for creating permanent records of flood events in urban areas. Unlike other existing web-based crowd sourcing systems which exercises proprietary rights to their product, our crowd sourcing solution is open-source, free of charge and an automated filtering method.  The crowd sourcing facility of Project NOAH is linked to http://www.nababaha.com where it was first deployed.

 Google Mashups and the World-Wide Web

Programmers of project NOAH create mashups and tailor fit the web product for disaster response and mitigation purposes. Mashups combine public domain web information with open Application Programming Interfaces or APIs.  It is a language and message format used by an application program to communicate with the operating system or some other control program such as a database management system or communications protocol. APIs are implemented by writing function calls in the program, which provide the linkage to the required subroutine for execution (PCMag, 2012). Google Maps APIs are used in the Project NOAH website to embed the web map service of Google, where DOST sensor data and hazard maps are overlain. The Google Maps APIs are open source and free as long as the NOAH website is accessible to the public and not for commercial use. The end product of the mashup is a web-based disaster Geographic Information System (web-GIS) dedicated for addressing Philippine disaster problems.

Landslide inventory and simulations

The availability of high-resolution topographic maps for the entire Philippines, such as those generated by LIDAR surveys, paves the way for the conduct of more sophisticated means of identifying landslide-prone areas. Downloadable maps currently provided by civil authorities show large areas of mountainous areas as landslide susceptible.  By conducting computer assisted analyses of mountainsides with landslides scars, concave planform areas, storm runoff convergence and structurally controlled failure slopes, the selection of landslide vulnerable sites is narrowed down.

Identification of shallow translational slides and debris flow source areas will be done using the Stability Index Model (SINMAP) software developed by Tarboton, 1997 and Pack et al., 1999 (Cabria, 2012) while structurally controlled landslide potential zones shall be determined using COLTOP 3D and the Matterocking 2.0 software developed by Metzger and Jaboyedoff in 2008 and Jaboyedoff in 2002, respectively (Cabria, 2012). Propagation zones from structurally controlled unstable regions shall be assessed with the Conefall software (Jaboyedoff 2003; Jaboyedoff and Labiouse 2003). A landslide inventory shall be used in conjunction with slope stability models to produce the landslide zonation maps. Instead of having practically the entire mountain depicted as landslide susceptible areas, only certain sectors of the mountain are mapped as landslide-susceptible.  High resolution maps derived from LIDAR combined with remote sensing and computer-assisted analysis of slopes and structures, provides a solution to the concern by many that nearly the entire Philippines is rendered unsafe by gravity failure of slopes and floods.

Landslide monitoring

Early warning systems for landslides and slope failures deployed in the real world using alternative instrumentation was developed by University of the Philippines scientists under the Department of Science Technology Grants in Aid Program (Catane et al, 2011, Marciano et al. 2011).  The landslide monitoring system which is composed of a sensor column with tri-axial accelerometers and capacitive sensors are buried vertically underground in a borehole to measures tilt and water content. Accessed via a Controller Area Network (CAN) communications protocol, the monitoring instrument sends data to a remote host for post processing using a GSM cellular infrastructure for post processing (Marciano et al, 2011).  Instruments have been deployed in 2 sites in Benguet, and 2 sites in St. Bernard, Leyte.  Another 7 sites in Benguet, Iloilo, Negros Oriental, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur have been targeted for the landslide sensor monitoring (Marciano, pers. com.).


Pertinent meteorological data from DOST-PAGASA and DOST-ASTI, flood maps generated by the Disaster Risk Exposure Assessment and Mitigation (DREAM)/LiDAR program and rainfall prediction of the ClimateX component of Project NOAH are now collected and displayed in http://www.noah.dost.gov.ph.  This website is currently hosted in the United States in the webfaction.com server and mirrored in Amazon and local Philippines servers.  To ensure continuity of service even during periods of heavy access, all disaster layers were placed in the Google Cloud while near real-time data from the sensors and PAGASA Doppler stations are pulled from DOST-ASTI servers.

 The Project NOAH website is one way by which near real-time information is disseminated to the general public. It is a means by which communities and the local government units can be informed with such data, critical for the assessment of the situation in their area and for decision making prior, during and after extreme weather disturbances. Other forms of disseminating NOAH information in the near future will be through a weather media channel called DOSTV, radio broadcasts, Short Message Service (SMS), Twitter, Facebook, as well as Android, Iphone and Ipad apps.   All forms of media platforms will be utilized to notify the people of flood hazard areas and provide near-real time weather information. Currently, Project NOAH displays the following features in its website at http://www.noah.dost.gov.ph.

Probability of Rain

The percent chance of rain (PCOR) or probability of rain is displayed in the website in Keyhole Markup Language (KML) layer format (Figure 1). By selecting the checkbox for probability of rain in the weather outlook tab, forecasts for the major cities are shown every hour up to the next four hours with probabilities displayed as weather icons and percentage chance: A sun icon represents 0-15% chance of rain; a sun with a cloud for rainfall probabilities 15-20%; an overcast icon for 20-40% chance of rain; a cloud with light to moderate rain image for 40 to 60% chance of rain; and a dark cloud with heavy rain symbol for 60-100% probability of rain. There are no 0% and 100% forecasts of chance of rain.


Figure 1: Percentage chance of rain for key cities in the Philippines

This feature of the NOAH website can be used for a variety of purposes. The primary intent is for disaster preparedness. However, it can also be used by farmers who want to know when to dry rice grain, fishermen who would like to check the sea condition, construction workers who need to know when to pour cement, and even by cleaners who need to ensure sweet-smelling sun-dried laundry. Its practical application as an outdoor reference tool is diverse.

Flood Maps

Flood maps for the entire country are already displayed in the Project NOAH website (Figure 2).  As of the time of writing this paper, inundation maps corresponding to 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 year rainfall return events are available for the Marikina, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Infanta and Lucena watersheds. The Agno, Pampanga, and Bicol River Basins should have inundation maps displayed soon. By December 2013, flood maps for the 18 major river basins and other river basins vulnerable to extreme flooding based on historical data (Table 1) shall be completed.

Table 1: List the 18 major river basin prioritized by Project NOAH and status of completion.

River Basin

Target Date


Marikina River Basin

July 2012

Bicol River Basin

July 2012

Cagayan de Oro River Basin

July 2012

Iligan River Basin

July 2012

Pampanga River Basin

July 2012

Agno River Basin

July 2012

Jalaur River Basin

December 2012

Ilog-Hilabangan River Basin

December 2012

Panay River Basin

December 2012

Davao River Basin

December 2012

Magasawang Tubig River Basin (Mindoro)

December 2012

Agus River Basin

December 2012

Tagum-Libuganon River Basin

December 2012

Tagoloan River Basin

December 2012

Buayan-Malungun River Basin

December 2012

Agusan River Basin

June 2012

Cagayan River Basin

June 2013

Mindanao River Basin

June 2013

Other vulnerable river basins

December 2013


By pressing the “legend” tab in the top right of the panel, the flood height with respect to an average Filipino, 5 feet, 5 inches in height can be seen. Three colors representing flood heights can be seen in both the map and legend. The yellow color means inundation less than or equal to 0.5 meters, orange means flooding 1.0 meter high, while the red color represents greater than 1.5 meter floods (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Static flood hazard map Marikina City showing high, moderate and low flood hazard levels. Red = high hazard, Orange = Medium hazard and Yellow = Low hazard.

The high resolution static flood maps are necessary for planning localized emergency response (i.e. evacuation and access routes, road closures) and for people to become aware of the hazards in their community (Lagmay, 2011). Longer term development plans of cities can be based on these high-resolution flood hazard maps.  Compromised areas should be avoided in future development.

A prototype 1-dimensional but real-time flood simulation of the Marikina River using HEC-RAS is also shown in the NOAH website.  This feature called flood inundation monitoring, can be found in the flood map tab and provides a plan view of the current status of the Marikina River stretch from Montalban to Pasig City.  This map is used to complement the cross-sectional views of the level of water along portions of the Marikina River as recorded by the stream gauges.

Weather Stations and stream gauges

DOST-PAGASA and DOST-ASTI Automated Weather Stations (AWS) and Automated Rain Gauges (ARG) reflect the amount of rainfall that precipitate in a given area. These instruments measure the height of water collected over a span of time usually 15 or 20 minutes. The intensity of rainfall at a given time is classified into light (<2.5 mm/hr), moderate (2.5<7.5 mm/hr), heavy (7.6 < 15 mm/hr), intense (15 < 30 mm/hr), or torrential rain (>30 mm/hr). They are color coded based on the PAGASA rain classification scheme into light blue, blue, dark blue, orange and red, respectively. The graphs of measured rainfall values already translated into intensity values in mm/hr (Figure 3).


Figure 3:  Automated Weather Stations (AWS), Automated Rain Gauges (ARG) and Water Level Sensor distribution in the Philippines.  Charts to the left and right are rainfall and water level data represented in graphical form.

Stream gauges of DOST-ASTI and EFCOS (Effective Flood Control Operation System) show the water level in Marikina Rivers every 10 minutes. Water levels are categorized according to the EFCOS assessments level (Table 2).

Table 2: EFCOS assessment levels based from the 1999 feasibility study.  Values are in meters above mean sea level.

Station Levels



Sto Nino




San Juan

Normal <22.4 <17.1 <13.0 <12.5 <10.9 <11.0 <17.1
Alert 22.4 17.1 13.0 12.5 10.9 11.0 17.1
Alarm 23.0 17.7 14.1 13.2 11.9 11.5 17.7
Critical 23.6 18.3 14.9 13.8 12.0 12.0 18.3

Rain, temperature, pressure and humidity measured by the AWS sensors are contoured using the thin plate smoothing spline (Hutchinson, 1998). By looking into these contour maps, the viewer is provided with a quick look at the rain, temperature pressure and humidity condition of every part of the Philippine land territory. As the deployment of the 1000 sensors progresses, the accuracy of the contour maps also becomes better. These maps only give a general overview of the rain, pressure and temperature conditions, are useful for visualization purposes, and at this point should not be used as parameters for scientific calculations.


Figure 4: Contour maps of rainfall, temperature, pressure and humidity for visualization of the general weather condition of the Philippines.

MTSAT, Processed MTSAT

MTSAT or Multi-Functional Transport Satellites are a series of weather satellites which contain Infrared (IR) sensors which detect the extent of cloud cover, as visible from space. These satellites fulfills a meteorological function for the Japan Meteorological Agency and an aviation control function for the Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB) of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport(MLIT). It succeeds the Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS) series as the next generation of satellites covering East Asia and the Western Pacific and provides information to more than 30 countries and territories in the region, including 1) imagery for monitoring the distribution/motion of clouds, 2) sea surface temperatures and 3) distribution of water vapor (JMA, 2012). The MTSAT images are downloaded by the PAGASA ground receiving station and provide a view every 30 minutes of the clouds and general weather condition of the Philippines and surrounding seas. Currently, these images along with the Doppler data are processed for predicting the probability of rain in key cities of the Philippines.


Figure 5: MTSAT view of the Philippines and surrounding seas.


PAGASA Doppler radars are configured to detect moisture or precipitation in the air and calculate its volume and movement. Currently, there are five functional PAGASA Doppler stations that stream real-time information every 10 minutes to the NOAH website (Figure 6).  These are the Baguio, Subic, Tagaytay, Cebu, and Hinatuan stations. Another operational Doppler located in Virac, Catanduanes, is planned to be integrated with the NOAH effort as soon as connectivity issues are sorted out.  A total of 14 Doppler stations are targeted for completion by PAGASA by the year 2013. The other stations located in Appari (for upgrade), Baler (under maintenance) Guiian (for upgrade) , Tampakan (ongoing installation), Busuanga (contract awarded), Iloilo (public bidding), Zamboanga (contract awarded) and South Palawan (public bidding) will also be incorporated to complete the ground radar coverage of the entire Philippines (PAGASA, 2012).

The Doppler images contain important rainfall information. Detected clouds are colored to represent the calculated rainfall intensity in mm/hr.  It helps determine if the rain cloud hovering your area could precipitate light, moderate, heavy, intense or torrential type of rain. The colored scale bar to the right of the panel serves as reference to the meaning of the color with respect to the intensity of precipitable rain.

subicFigure 6: Snapshot of the Doppler image animation from the Subic station.

 Flood reporting and Mapping System

The flood reporting system is a web-based interactive map that show flood levels in Metro Manila. It was originally created to serve as a permanent record of the Ondoy floods to help keep future residents of the metropolis reminded of the catastrophe. Refinements to the system, including crowd sourcing and filtering, now allow inputs for floods in Metro Manila spawned by any type of rainfall event (Lagmay et. Al, this issue).  The collective anecdotal accounts of the inundation of the metropolis and adjacent areas can be used for validation of computer generated flood simulations (Figure 7) and can serve as a standalone flood hazard map should there be a large number of citizen reports.

flood report

Figure 7: Comparison of the results of the flood reporting and mapping system and flood simulations. The citizen reports are used to validate inundation maps generated by flood simulations.

Conclusions and recommendations

The latest government initiative of government seeks to share critical data to the public in order to empower communities.  Project NOAH allows access to supplementary information apart from those already provided by civil authorities for local government units to have more facts available as basis for making critical decisions to defend themselves against imminent danger. The near real-time information streamed through the internet and broadcast through other media platforms make full use of technological advances in mass communication for the benefit of people at risk from natural hazards.

Government has funded the survey of the entire Philippines using LIDAR and radar remote sensing technology, to generate high-resolution hazard maps relevant for community preparedness and development planning.  Without these maps, majority of the Philippines would only have regional scale maps that are only appropriate for regional scale planning. Community or local scale hazard maps are the kind maps that people identify with because they are able to see the exposure of their properties and familiar places to danger. It raises their awareness, an important step to promote vigilance against natural hazards. The project aims to complete the flood hazards maps by the end of the year 2013, a task that could not be met without the use of a rapid topographic data acquisition system such as LIDAR.

Computer-assisted mapping which can build scenarios of possible hazards allows an understanding of disaster problems that beset us. It can be utilized to avoid surprise.  The staggering impacts of Tropical Storm Ondoy caught everyone unprepared by not realizing that such magnitude of inundation can occur. Elevated places normally not flooded were inundated and this could have been recognized in advance, information that is crucial for disaster preparedness.

Project NOAH is still in its infancy.  It still has a long way to go in demonstrating its value in addressing a social problem imposed by natural events. This latest government initiative promotes frontier science and technology and establishes research and development platforms as key elements to assure homeland security. It is however, not a complete solution. Society would need to embrace the program and make it a rallying point for establishing a culture of safety.  No matter how much the government delivers, it still rests on the people on how to use it wisely.



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5 thoughts on “Disseminating near real-time hazards information and flood maps in the Philippines through Web-GIS

  1. Good day! How can we download data especially shapefiles from your site like flood hazard and Landslide? Thanks!

    • Hi Venice. The download feature for the website is currently under development and will be available soon. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Taguig City Hazard Impact Assessment – Boondocks and Cities

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