Project NOAH: The Story
In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Sendong in 2011, former President Benigno S. Aquino III called for “a more accurate, integrated, and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system, especially in high-risk areas throughout the Philippines.” In response, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scanned all available technologies and expertise to come up with a flagship program that addressed the nation’s needs before, during, and after disasters.
At that time, there were three ongoing DOST-funded independent projects that related to disaster, namely ClimateX, Weather Sensors Development, and Disaster Risk and Exposure Assessment for Mitigation orDREAM. Upon the directive of then DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo, these three projects were consolidated, and likewise three more projects were approved to form Project NOAH which had Dr. Mahar Lagmay as executive director. These three new projects were: 1) Storm Surge (under PAGASA), 2) Landslide, and 3) WebGIS.
These projects, working together and sharing data among themselves, became the core of DOST’s flagship program called the Disaster Risk Reduction/Climate Change Adaptation (DRR-CCA) which then Secretary Montejo called the NOAH Program.
This program, with a budget of P6.4 billion, is now beefed up with 19 components, including the original six projects plus DREAM-LiDAR, 3-D Mapping, FloodNET, Landslide Sensors Development, and Hydro-Met Sensors Development, among others.
Among NOAH Program’s missions were to undertake disaster science research and development, advance the use of cutting edge technologies, and recommend innovative information services in government’s disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.
NOAH Program had a multi-disciplinary approach in developing systems, tools, and other technologies that could be operationalized by the government to help prevent and mitigate disasters. It also partnered with the academe and other stakeholders to accomplish its objectives.
As a Grant-In-Aid project of the DOST, the NOAH Program, as well as its components, all had starting and completion dates, and deliverables, among others.
The NOAH Program started in 2011 and most component projects were completed in 2015, including Project NOAH.
Project NOAH was a success, and its popularity prompted the Department of Budget and Management to label all succeeding DOST DRR/CCA projects as “Project NOAH/NOAH Program.”
Project NOAH, or Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards, was launched in July 2012 in Marikina City by no less than former President Aquino and former Secretary Montejo. Project NOAH was designed to harness technologies and management services for disaster risk reduction activities offered by the DOST through DOST’s agencies PAGASA, PHIVOLCS, and Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DOST-ASTI) in partnership with the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences and the UP College of Engineering.
During its course, Project NOAH under Dr. Lagmay was able to provide an early flood warning system together with the country’s weather authority, the DOST- PAGASA. Project NOAH used and processed data coming from PAGASA.
Project NOAH was completed in December 2015 and it was expected to transfer to PAGASA all the technologies that the project developed. PAGASA has the mandate to “provide protection against natural calamities and utilize scientific knowledge as an effective instrument to insure the safety, well- being and economic security of all the people, and for the promotion of national progress.” Therefore it is the government’s prime end-user for all technologies generated by Project NOAH and similar initiatives. This is not to say, however, that only PAGASA can use the said technologies as these are open to all institutions and offices that need them.
In early 2015, then Secretary Montejo created a committee through a special order that specifically directed PAGASA and Project NOAH personnel, including Dr. Lagmay, to start the transfer of developed data and tools to PAGASA. The start of the transfer process was again agreed upon in a meeting on November 28, 2016 with Dr. Lagmay, DOST officials, and PAGASA.
In a statement on Project NOAH released on January 30, 2017, DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña said the “results are useful and should be institutionalized in regular government agencies whose mandates cover these areas.” Thus, it is not only PAGASA that can use the technologies but also other agencies concerned with disaster risk reduction to benefit the Filipino people by saving lives and property. This is science for the people.
Transition then extension
In 2016, Project NOAH had yet to complete the transfer to PAGASA so Dr. Lagmay was advised to propose a transition project to facilitate the transfer of technology. Dr. Lagmay then proposed the project called ISAIAH or the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards: Integrated Scenario-based Assessments of Impacts and Hazards, which was approved in March 2016.
Upon the project’s approval in DOST-PCIEERD’s Governing Council, Dr. Lagmay was directed to transfer to PAGASA the tools developed by the Project as one of its deliverables. This included the training of PAGASA personnel on the new tools developed. Towards the end of project ISAIAH, Dr. Lagmay was not able to facilitate the transfer so he made a request for extension dated Nov. 11, 2016 but received by DOST only on December 19, 2016. The submitted documents did not include financial reports, proposed work plan, and target activities for the extension, among other requirements and, therefore, the request has not yet been deliberated upon.
All personnel of Project NOAH and ISAIAH are contractual staff and therefore co-terminus with the project. However, DOST, in good faith, recognizes the importance and value of the experts trained under Project NOAH and they should be recruited in government agencies to continue the good work that they have been doing in the past.
A transition project under PAGASA will be able to absorb many of the Project NOAH personnel. This is in line with the recently passed PAGASA Modernization Law. In addition, the establishment of the National Space Agency will likewise require personnel with the skill sets of some of the NOAH personnel and they should apply there as well.
Project NOAH has developed many tools, generated important data, and trained a new crop of disaster scientists. The service that NOAH provides must be made a permanent fixture in mandated agencies, and this has been the core objective of the project from the very start. Young and highly trained scientists must also be encouraged to join government service. Holding back on the expected delivery or even promise of technology and knowledge transfer is denying the Filipino people of better weather forecasting and disaster risk assessment services.