Modified weather stations benefit Laguna disaster-prone areas

Eight Automatic Weather Station (AWS) units with Early Warning System (EWS) for floods and landslides were installed in four towns of Laguna namely Mabitac, Famy, Rizal and Pila. These towns are included in the list of areas susceptible to floods and landslides according to the 2009 report of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau – Department of Environment and Natural Resources (MGB – DENR). The implementation of the system ran for a year which started from July 2012 up to July 31, 2013.

As the head of the project, Prof. Nelio C. Altoveros from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics (IMSP) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and his team showcased their exhibit on Early Warning System (EWS) during SyenSaya 2013 at the Copeland Gymnasium in UPLB, July 31 – August 2.

Automatic Weather Station (AWS)

The conventional AWS was modified to include an EWS box which houses a Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) module that receives the warning text message from the AWS box. The AWS can read weather parameters such as rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and solar radiation.  It consists of the following weather instruments:

Wind cups. It consists of four hemispherical cups placed at the ends of four horizontal arms which are mounted at equal angles to each other on a vertical shaft. The air flow turns the shaft proportional to the wind speed. The turning of the cups will then be counted over a predetermined period of time to produce the average wind speed.

Rain gauge. This is placed at the upper lever of the console to measure the amount of rainfall. It also measures precipitation in millimeters.

Solar panel. This serves as the source of energy during electric blackout. It also powers the station during the day and changes the upper capacitor for the night operation. Lithium batteries are used as back-up for cloudy and windy days.

Wind vane. It has a pivotal arrow that turns in the direction of the wind.

Thermo Hygrometer. It reads the temperature and also measures humidity. Humidity is a representation of the concentration of the water vapour in the air. To be more familiar, it is locally termed as “halumigmig.”

Wireless range. It ensures consistent transmission from the integrated sensor suite to the console. To avoid delay in the transmission of data due to the weather condition, it acts as a channel for definite data logging and transmission.

Another device was attached to the AWS to determine whether the atmospheric data gathered has already reached the critical level identified by PAGASA. The data then triggers the EWS siren and light as warning to the community for varied length of time as stipulated by the color warnings: 5 sec ON and 10 sec OFF for 1 minute, yellow warning (7.5-15mm rain); 5 sec ON and 5 sec OFF for 1 minute, orange warning (15-30mm rain); and 10 sec ON and 3 sec OFF for continuous warning until someone from the LGU unplugs the EWS, red warning (more than 30mm rain).  The siren can be heard 3km from the site.

Professor Altoveros explained that the alarm is very crucial as floods can happen even in the early hours of the day without people noticing it.

“It is important to consider not only the data you’ve collected on rainfall, wind speed, and direction, but more importantly during strong rains, the community should be warned,” he added.

According to Professor Altoveros, the installation and implementation of the AWS was a success. So far, the only problem perceived is the inconsistency of the signal on remote areas which affects the reliability of the delivery of weather reports.

The team has scheduled regular monthly monitoring of the system. Professor Altoveros said that there is a need to further study the locality of a certain community to adapt the warning level depending on the community rainfall and water level tolerance since the warning level scheme is currently patterned in the topography of Metro Manila.

Future modification of the system includes the use of radio frequency to ensure a steady delivery of warning messages and weather reports. This will address the problem of the inconsistent signal of cell sites in remote areas. Another is the installation of a satellite module to the AWS that will provide global satellite connectivity to ensure uncontested message delivery. However, the said modifications require a significant amount of money.

The AWS is a World Food Programme (WFP) funded project of the School Environmental Science and Management (SESAM) and IMSP UPLB.  The AWS installation is a P3-million funded research study by the WFP as part of the Disaster Preparedness and Response project. The idea of a modified AWS was submitted as a proposal to the WFP’s second phase of the technical support to the Philippines for Disaster Preparedness and Response Activities.

As an off shoot project, Professor Altoveros and his team were tasked to install an AWS in Mt. Makiling, which is expected to reach completion by September this year. Another installation will be in the Quezon province.

Professor Altoveros’ team include: Julius Cris V. Salinas, instructor from IMSP and Thaddeus P. Lawas, University Research Associate from SESAM, as project coordinators; Joyce Ragudo, Rendendo Mata, and Jedd Jaurique as project staff; and several BS Applied Physics students from UPLB.

Communication Protocol

One of the components of the project is a communication protocol wherein three LGU officials from each municipality/town will receive text messages from the AWS.  The messages will then be assessed for carrying out disaster plans of the community.

The idea is to ensure that the community people are aware on what to do during calamities through series of consultations, awareness campaigns, seminars and disaster and emergency drills in partnership with PAGASA.  Strategic locations for evacuations in each municipality were also identified during the seminars conducted.

“Basically, signal nos. 1, 2, and 3 are based on wind speed. Now, PAGASA has the color warnings based on rainfall.  It does not take a storm for floods and landslides to happen as what we have seen during the onslaught of Habagat.   With the EWS, since we’re already warned, we don’t have to wait for something bad to happen before we move, and all the action plans are localized,” said Ragudo, project staff.

Meanwhile, weather information from all installed AWS can be accessed through www.weatherlink.com/user/uplbweather (uplbweather 2, uplbweather 3, uplbweather4 and uplbweather5 for the other municipalities). (Crispin Mahrion B. Abacan, with reports from Jan Amiel C. de Leon and Noli A. Magsambol III)

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