Introducing VR equipped mock simulations to incentivize people for early action by Asia-Africa-SAmerica
VR based disaster simulation in mock workshops and mobile alert messaging of steps for early action escorts safely from climate hazards.
$1 investment in disaster mitigation can save $4-7 during the response as per the World Bank.
The project proposes two technological innovations on anticipating climate hazards- using virtual reality (VR) in mock simulations and mobile alert messaging for incentivizing people for early action. The VR technology has reached a commercial entry nowadays being feasible for engineering purposes. It can serve as a best suit tool for mock simulations where a hypothetical extreme scenario is simulated such as flood, drought, cyclone and even earthquake. The concept is that vulnerable populations cannot better understand the full impact of hazards that they are exposed to, ‘unless the event is recreated as realistic as possible at their own environment’ (flood, drought, GLOFs, Tsunami, Earthquake). Using disaster simulation in VR during mock workshops can amplify the sense of alert prior to disaster, and thus helps to make a pragmatic disaster response plan and a local guideline. Later on, sending the condensed messages of such guidelines as ‘alert mobile messages’ just before hazard would escort vulnerable population step by step to a safe escape. Thus, we propose a technological solution for effective disaster risk reduction via planning, capacity building and finally guiding towards behavioral change- as an effective method for incentivizing people for early action across three different continents Asia, Africa and South America.
This multidisciplinary innovative proposal is developed with a collaborative effort of bureaucrats of developing countries, INGO professionals, civil and software engineers, academics and young researchers from Australia, Germany, Nepal, Rwanda, Sudan, Ghana, Uganda, Peru and Colombia, with a view to utilize the academic resources of developed countries to better anticipate climate hazards in the developing countries. The proposal is thus aligned with the SDGs, UNISDR Strategic Framework 2016-2021 and supports 2030 agenda of Sendai Framework.
What actions do you propose?
We propose to modify the traditional mock drills that has been widely practiced by many international organizations, including United Nations, over the last two decades for preparing vulnerable communities against climate hazards such as flood, Tsunami, drought, earthquake, etc.. The overall methodology of the proposed project can be separated mainly into two different phases- the software development phase and the implementation phase. Following actions are proposed for this project;
i. National Level: Site selection and collaboration with local stakeholders
1. The project would be implemented from top to bottom approach. The team members belonging to their respective countries will approach to the lead organizations in DRR working in their own countries.
2. The inception meeting will be held with the lead sector organization in disaster risk reduction (DRR) to introduce our project and identify the exact vulnerable communities who are prone to climate hazard (we will focus on flood for instance), and for synchronizing our project with their existing disaster management programs.
ii. International Level: Software development
The software development team will access free online Digital Elevation Model(DEM) of those places via Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER GDEM), Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM)and google earth to develop 3D models of the vulnerable sites. The team would start their work of developing Disaster Simulation for VR.
3. In detail, development of the Disaster Simulation will involve:
- VR in unity 3D, rainfall and flood simulations can be developed into 3D clips of the villages, with the software packages from Maya and Autodesk. Once the 3D scenes of villages and nearby flood prone rivers are created, the flood plains can be manipulated by gradually increasing the water level up to High Flood Level (HFL), or developing 1D, 2D flood models.
- Finally, these features would be developed into a navigable 3D 360 degree first person simulation. The viewers can walk/run along the streets and turn around to see their village/houses being flooded. Further, other additional extreme events (fire, drought, storm, etc.) for the particular community can also be simulated and combined , as per the topic of mock workshop.
iii. District Level: Mock Simulation Workshops
4. Mock workshops will be organized in support of the central, district, municipal and community level organizations where the concept of the project will be introduced.
5. Each of the participants will be provided with VR goggles, that would be connected to a central computer regulated by a VR experienced technician who will use a centrally controlled joy stick for navigation.
6. “Immersion Factor of VR”: The live 3D 360 degree scenes of the village with sound effects of the extreme event will make the observers to immerse inside the video and feel the incident as if real. The viewers will be sentimental to see their own village and houses being washed away. The observers will be navigated along the streets to and routed to a safe place. The viewers will be able to see the location of contact points for emergency services (food, shelter, water, etc.) in the video, which will make them familiar with the real world location. With VR experience of a hypothetical extreme event scenario as if real, viewers will express a ‘mixed emotions of panic, fear and alertness’ and communicate with each other (neighbours) in the room who would be watching together. This would lead to a more active discussion among local stakeholders, utilities and public about the wide range of concerning issues on early action, rescue and response before, during or in the aftermath of the disaster.
7. The target of such VR equipped mock simulation workshops is to test the resilience capacity of existing local response plans and suggest for improvements. The mock simulation workshops will also lead to the formulation of a new local disaster preparedness plan and a local level guideline with steps to follow before, during or in the aftermath of an extreme event under consideration. Those steps would be condensed to the ‘key words’ in order to send as text messages in mobiles to the affected population prior to/during the state of disaster.
8. The instrumental set up and VR goggles are provided through a contact organization working in the DRR sector. Similar VR experiencing environments can be ‘easily replicated’ amongst schools, as school children work as a locus for advocating disaster preparedness education, and things to do for early action to save lives and property.
iv. Community Level: Mobile alert messaging on stepwise guide for early actions
9. Assuming a pre-established Early Warning System (EWS) in place, the EWS alert message will be followed by the second alert message containing aforementioned “key words” for a step wise instructions for a safe escape from the disaster, which minimizes the loss of lives and properties. Similarly, people can call/text to a 24x7 available free 'hotline' network to report back the things that were ‘not working as expected’ via mobile messages in their fresh memory, rather than traditional way of organizing an immediate workshop in a post disaster scenario that seems less practical, even if it is necessary.
b) Country Chapters
Every country has a unique institutional arrangement for implementing DRR activities, nevertheless the implementation model is quite similar. We intend to construct one VR model considering flood disaster in Toowoomba Council, Queensland, Australia for reference, as it already has well developed flood simulation models for its flood prone communities. This would work as reference to build other models in targeted vulnerable communities of developing countries. Here we brief about every country chapter and elaborate in detail about the implementation strategy for a Nepal, as a reference.
Nepal is highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, GLOFs, drought and earthquake. The country is currently struggling to reshape after a deadly 7.8 ML earthquake on April 2015. Nepal’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan (DPRP) is coordinated by the Home Ministry, which involves humanitarian response clusters with government as lead and INGOs as co-lead. There are several examples of traditional mock drills that have been practiced in the region in community scale by UNICEF, Practical Action, Action Aid, etc., for early action, which will ease in introducing the purpose of VR equipped mock simulations . The community level work shall be approached via the Local Development Officer (LDO) and the Central District Officer (CDO) at municipal level. On their initiation, other local level government bodies, international organizations, non-government organizations, local stakeholders and local community level informal groups/clubs such as from water resources, forest, land protection, health, education, police, school children, users' committee, etc. will be contacted. Finally, mock simulation workshops will be organized with the representatives of these stakeholders. On formulation of the plans and local guidelines, the key words for stepwise early actions to be undertaken prior to disaster will be decided and recorded in the Nepal Telecom’s mobile network, as the content for as ‘alert messages’. Where EWS exists (as set up by Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) in major river basins), it would avoid the task of registering every community member’s mobile phone number into the early action message relay system. If not, the mobile networking task should be designed in coordination with DHM. The community groups shall be assigned with the responsibility of relaying the early action message up to the unreachable ones (pro poor ones without mobile access) prior to the disaster.
SUDAN & RWANDA: Africa
Sudan is majorly affected by the droughts and floods which immediately impose great impacts on human lives, including food and water security that affects millions of agro based communities. A short-term mitigation and preparedness plan for El Niño was developed jointly by the Government of Sudan and some UN organizations. On the context where many DRR efforts are taking place , we believe integrating this pioneering concept in regular DRR activities can incentivize people for early action and save people’s lives and properties.
In Rwanda, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) has performed hazard mapping and initiated DRR activities, in support with INGOs . The EWB-Rwanda, EWB-Germany and Bridge to Prosperity have been working at ground level to provide technological solutions (including indigenous solutions) during evacuation at the time of flood. The proposed program can be mainstreamed into regular government work plan of MIDIMAR, which can be facilitated by INGOs for implementation in vulnerable areas.
PERU & COLOMBIA: South America
Peru is exposed to the extreme floods events impacting the lives in the urban settlements. National Civil Institute for Disaster Protection (INDECI) works as a government lead, that coordinates DRR activities at local council level . The only simulation available is for a Tsunami in the coast of Lima. INDECI has schedule to visit elementary and high schools to teach students the principles of disaster response and measures to take for early action. However, the existing response mechanism is not efficient. Using VR based mock simulations will amplify the effectiveness of these awareness campaigns among the utilities, public and school children, and also increase the technical capacity to simulate the worst disaster scenario.
The Colombian government leads the National System for Attention and Prevention of disasters, through the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD- Spanish). The urban cities have an 'Emergency Operative Council' to lead the emergency plan. However, the situation is worse in rural. The UNGRD has action plans for 'Risk Knowledge' and 'Risk Reduction', with policies that are implemented at the departmental, municipal and local level . As part of a border research program on the relation of communities and water resources, EWB Colombia is interested to pilot this project.
Simplifying Challenges: Dealing with uncertainties.
The inconsistent part is that the degree of accuracy of models would differ according to the accuracy of outsourced geospatial information and the level of baseline data collected from onsite survey. As such, in urban cities of developed countries like Japan, Australia and others, flood models can be more precisely simulated over the topographical model of village with buildings, roads, trees, etc. as compared to a rural village of Sudan. This means that the technology has wider feasibility in developed countries. However, concerning the "anticipation" of climate hazard, this will have little impact in case of vulnerable communities of developing countries, as it's the immersion factor of VR that we require (or we are proposing) to sensitize the communities for disaster preparedness more than the accuracy of model.
Capacity Building :Outsourcing to local IT companies.
This a participatory multidisciplinary disaster anticipation project that can only be sustainable with the help of good initial collaboration with international researchers until ultimate technology transfer. We intend to outsource the VR modeling work to the local IT companies after the development of primary high precise disaster simulated VR model of Toowoomba Council, Australia. This not only reduces the project cost drastically up to 60%, due to the low man power cost of developing countries, but also strengthens capacity of the regional/local companies to anticipate disasters.
Who will take these actions?
Initially, a team of engineers from the Centre of Interactive Cinema Research –iCinema, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia and the Institute of Game Development and Research (Cologne Game Lab), TH Köln - University of Applied Sciences, Cologne, Germany, would be involved to write tools to merge the Digital Elevation Models, Civil 3D models and flood simulation. Initially, an Australian flood vulnerable community will be modelled in VR and tested with its efficacy at corresponding council level (Toowoomba Council, Queensland, Australia). Thus, developed VR technology would be transferred to the developing countries through a channel of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and INGOs working in DRR across the countries with the help of the respective country’s team member. The project will run parallel to the local government’s regular annual work plan for DRR in the targeted communities, and the required additional technical and logistics support (VR instrumental set up) would be provided. The lead international organizations working in DRR in different countries vary. UNISDR, UNOCHA, UNICEF, Practical Action, Action Aid are few of such names active in the region, and there are many such organizations. Apart from local government agencies and INGOs, other departments such as meteorological department, survey department, education service, municipal and district assemblies, community development agencies, and school clubs and local youth clubs will collaborate during project implementation.The national and district level engineers working for department of survey, hydrology and meteorology, and information and communication will be given basic conceptual training by project members for developing disaster simulations in VR. EWB and other agencies like BORDA (Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association) can work as facilitator organizations for technology transfer for the regional replication of the project.
Where will these actions be taken?
The software development will take place in the developed countries- Australia and Germany, and the implementation will take place in the flood prone vulnerable communities of five different developing countries extending from the Himalayan land of Mt. Everest (Nepal) to the hot deserted African sub-continent (Sudan and Rwanda) and up to the Andes (Peru and Columbia).
The primary project would be developed for Toowoomba Council flood prone zone of Eastern Creek, that has a devastating record of flood in 2011. Predeveloped flood simulation models and accurate DEM will produce more precise VR models for testing, that's will act as reference, as it will also produce a manual for replication of similar VR model disaster simulation.
The project will then be implemented in a rural setting of the Karnali River catchment of Nepal which is a flood prone river corridor of the country. In Sudan, the project will be implemented in an urban setting of Khartoum, the capital city, which has been affected by severe flash floods. In Rwanda, the rural North-Western region such as Rubavu, Musanze, Burera, Gakenke, Nyabihu and Ngororero, are frequently affected by flood hazards. We look to prototype our project in Nyabugogo of Kigali Cty of Rwanda. In Peru, the project will be targeted for an urban setting in the downstream of Rimac River of the Andean catchment near Lima, where the infrastructure has been collapsed due to flood events. We plan to select suburbs San Juan de Lurigancho and Chosica for the prototype implementation. In Colombia, recent changes in the climate situation (a particularly harsh rainy season in some areas), have heavily affected the land stability of several municipalities around Bogotá (country capital) in the Cundinamarca department, which all are located on the oriental branch of Colombia's Andes mountains. We target to implement our project in these rural communities located in the suburbs with 1.5-2 hour away from the capital.
What are other key benefits?
The project strengthens the resilience capacity of local stakeholders and the communities. People will have a better understanding of the impacts and can have a more active role in emergency planning and early actions for anticipating climate hazard. This will ultimately lead to the behavioral change of vulnerable communities in being climate resilient. The advance engineering skills will be utilized to improve participatory disaster planning process and preparedness.
The project promotes partnership and technology transfer between the developed countries and developing countries for addressing global climate change issues. Synchronizing the project’s activities with the local government’s regular work plan, promotes the capacity building, avoids separate allocation of resources for the implementation and ensures the strategic sustainability. The proposal thus addresses SDGs and supports 2030 agenda of Sendai Framework [15,16].
What are the proposal’s costs?
VR development costs around USD 20,000-80,000 for one site. However, it can be re-used for different extreme events scenario (fire, drought, El Nino, etc. and even earthquakes) for the same location. These costing are for setting up the frame-work such as generic tools across all sites such as DEM/google maps->mesh translation, flood water simulation code, first person controlling code, VR camera code, etc.). Further, all accessories (VR set up instruments, computer, VR goggles, etc.) are reusable for replication purpose. Mainstreaming the project with local government’s regular DRR activities and outsourcing to local IT companies, minimizes the independent implementation cost, which could have occurred otherwise. General breakdown of the project cost is as follows;
International Level (Software development, disaster simulation, accessories transport) = 400,000.00
National Level (Demonstration, technical support, capacity building, cluster collaboration) = 150,000.00
District Level (Demonstration, meetings, mock workshops, planning, mobile networking) = 150,000.00
Community Level (Demonstration, awareness, social mobilization, mock drills in schools and communities = 100,000.00
Total project cost: 800,000.00
This is only 20% of total cost incurred on behalf of direct cost for project implementation, whereas the total cost for entire campaign is 3-4 times more. We intend to implement project on cost share basis between the local stakeholders (government utilities, NGOs, INGOs and public) and the project sponsors, so as to promote the ownership of the project. The software development cost decrease by 60% on outsourcing the task to local IT companies (as for example outsourcing to Indian software companies). People living in five communities across five countries in both rural (1,000-3,000 households) and urban (5,000-10,000 households or more) setting will be benefited, including the school children in that area.
There are not any negative side effects of the project.
Short Term: In the short term we will focus on establishing implementation channel via collaboration with local government, non-government organizations and INGOs, including integrating our concept into a pre-established EWS. Developing skilled local manpowers via outsourcing to local companies and capacity building across five countries will be done over this period. This would also include organizing VR equipped mock drills in schools for raising awareness for disaster preparedness and early action. In case of the absence of an EWS, local government organizations would be advised to establish one. The mock simulation workshops would end with the formulation of a local disaster response plan or guideline, the condensed key words from which will be recorded in mobile network as alert message information.
In the medium term, the project will serve to increase capacity building of the local institutions, training for local engineers on using VR and hazard simulation models and hand over process according to the local disaster reduction plans. It would also cover mainstreaming local plans and activities towards ‘anticipatory adaptation’ for building climate resilient vulnerable communities. It will promote North-South Collaboration among agencies (academics and implementing organizations) and partnerships for strengthening inter-cluster coordination for humanitarian response at local and national level, and awareness campaigns. The piloted sites will work as reference for replication in neighboring countries of the respective regions.
Over long term, the project can be replicated across the globe for simulating disaster scenarios and prepare mitigation strategies in a holistic approach. Apart from the technical solutions, it will help the global sector to come together for meeting sustainable development goals for protecting the ecosystem services.
No such other proposals exist under the theme of 'anticipating climate hazards' that are exactly related with this proposal. However, some of the proposals have slight similarities regarding the concept of gamification, unity 3D tool, mobile networks and ICT for disaster preparedness. Some of those proposals are mentioned below;
 D. Deere, F. D. Leusch, A. Humpage, D. Cunliffe, and S. J. Khan, "Hypothetical scenario exercises to improve planning and readiness for drinking water quality management during extreme weather events," Water Research, 2016.
 P. B. Andreatta, E. Maslowski, S. Petty, W. Shim, M. Marsh, T. Hall, et al., "Virtual Reality Triage Training Provides a Viable Solution for Disaster‐preparedness," Academic emergency medicine, vol. 17, pp. 870-876, 2010.
 B. Pandey and K. Okazaki, "Community-based disaster management: empowering communities to cope with disaster risks," Regional Development Dialogue, vol. 26, p. 52, 2005.
 M. Abrams, H. Tsu, G. Hulley, K. Iwao, D. Pieri, T. Cudahy, et al., "The advanced spaceborne thermal emission and reflection radiometer (ASTER) after fifteen years: review of global products," International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, vol. 38, pp. 292-301, 2015.
 B. Rabus, M. Eineder, A. Roth, and R. Bamler, "The shuttle radar topography mission—a new class of digital elevation models acquired by spaceborne radar," ISPRS journal of photogrammetry and remote sensing, vol. 57, pp. 241-262, 2003.
 R. Wang, B. Chen, F. Huang, and Y. Fang, "Using collaborative virtual geographic environment for fire disaster simulation and virtual fire training," in Geoinformatics (GEOINFORMATICS), 2012 20th International Conference on, 2012, pp. 1-4.
 E. B. Hsu, Y. Li, J. D. Bayram, D. Levinson, S. Yang, and C. Monahan, "State of virtual reality based disaster preparedness and response training," PLOS Currents Disasters, 2013.
 Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES); UNISDR, “Comprehensive School Safety”, 2017.
 S. Jones, K. J. Oven, B. Manyena, and K. Aryal, "Governance struggles and policy processes in disaster risk reduction: A case study from Nepal," Geoforum, vol. 57, pp. 78-90, 2014.
 Practical Action, “74 mock drills conducted in Karnali River basin of Nepal ahead of monsoon season”, 5 June 2015, Retrieved on http://practicalaction.org/karnali-flood-drill-nepal-2015.
 United nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Retrieved on: http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/all-stories/sudan-hundreds-thousands-affected-heavy-rains-and-floods, 2013.
 Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), Identification Of Disaster Higher Risk Zones on Floods and Landslides In Rwanda, 2012.
 NDECI, “Manual básico para la estimación del riesgo / Perú”, 2006.
 National Unit for Disaster Risk Management, “National Plan for Natural Disaster Risk Management-Colombia: A Development Strategy 2015-2025”, 2016.
 UNISDR, “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030”, 2015.