A look at the ideas and projects we're working on as we strive to grow and improve ReliefWeb.

Stay “alert” with ReliefWeb’s enhanced disaster monitoring system

By Andrew Kobylinski

Hundreds of natural disasters occur each year. According to UNOCHA’s World Humanitarian Data and Trends, natural disasters affected more than 124.5 million people worldwide in 2012. Having access to timely and relevant information is key for humanitarians to be prepared and effective in response.

At ReliefWeb, we aim to provide timely disaster information that is useful and relevant to the international humanitarian community. So when monitoring and publishing disaster information, we need to make an editorial decision as to when to categorize a situation as a "disaster". This involves assigning a unique identifier - GLIDE number - to the situation and publishing it in our “Disasters” section. Users who have signed up for “New disaster notifications” also receive an automated email as soon as the “new disaster” page goes online, providing them with a short description on what happened and links to relevant information. In 2013, we published 115 such disasters.

But before making this editorial decision, our editors monitor information from reliable sources such as national disaster management authorities, UN agencies and local NGOs and media to keep track of what is happening using our internal collaboration system, which we call “Disaster to Watch”. If a situation reaches disaster proportions, we publish it in the disasters section.

Since the information we monitor and publish is public, we thought why not make this “Disaster to Watch” package available to our users? So we’ve created a new ReliefWeb disaster information service called “Alerts”. Alerts are a new way of categorising information for potential natural disaster situations.

For example, a hurricane, cyclone or major storm can be very powerful; however, it may only result in a significant emergency situation - a natural disaster - depending on the actual extent of human casualties and damage to the communities, coupled with underlying vulnerabilities. Therefore, we will inform you of these type of events by classifying them as alerts and linking you to relevant content.

As this blog is being published, we have published an Alert for Typhoon Rammasun, which is threatening to strike the Philippines.

The Alerts function is located in the disasters pages. Alerts are displayed on the interactive map and in the disaster information stream. We have colour-coded them in orange for easier visual distinction from ongoing (red) and past (green) disasters.

This new service is designed to complement many of our partner disaster monitoring systems, such as GDACS or HEWSWEB.

An Alert eventually becomes either a “Disaster”, if it causes significant damage, or gets archived in our system, thereby disappearing from the main site, if it no longer poses a threat.

We hope you find these Alerts useful and apply them to your disaster information management systems. We are considering how best to deliver Alert information to you in addition to displaying it on the site. If you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement of the alerts system, please let us know by either leaving a comment below or contact us.

Visit the ReliefWeb disaster section to see if there are any current alerts