2016年07月14日

Mitsuru Yabe

I REFER to your front page report “Hazard in the hills” (The Star, June 23).

New residential developments are spreading quite rapidly on hills throughout Malaysia. When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Japan two years ago, I felt that li--ving in this environment flushed with greenery would be an amazing experience for me.

Since then, I have discovered that there are very worrying concerns for people living on slopes in the urban areas. There is the possibility of a landslide occurring without warning.

In Japan, where earthquakes occur frequently, the geological conditions and soil composition are very weak. A lot of sediment-related disasters occur every year due to frequent heavy rainfall and typhoons.

As such, legislation and techno-logies related to slope disasters have been implemented for the past 50 years.

There is a high possibility of landslides occurring within the residential areas on slopes and hilly terrains in Kuala Lumpur. The unfortunate tragedy of Highland Towers, which happened in 1993, is an example.

Having been involved as an engineer in work related to early warning systems on slope disaster for over 10 years, I would like to share my experience in slope disaster prevention and mitigation in Japan and my recent activities with residents and city councils in Malaysia.

Hilly terrains in Kuala Lumpur consist of hard rocks formed du--ring the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic eras. The rocks are hidden under a surface layer that’s about 30m deep, which is subjected to wea-thering specific to tropical regions.

During the rainy season, this weathering is made worse by the constant infiltration of water. Research conducted by Malaysian institutes such as the Southeast Asian Disaster Prevention Research Initiative of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia have shown this to be true.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to fully investigate the complex influence of weathering in deep ground despite having the newest technologies.

People who live on hilly areas in Kuala Lumpur must therefore recognise the potential risk of landslides in their neighbourhoods and pay attention to any change in the environment in their residential areas.

They must learn to detect signs of landslides by looking for cracks, sinkholes or groundwater springs after a heavy downpour and report to the relevant authorities where necessary.

Residents must also know the evacuation procedures and that it is important to share the basic information of slope disaster prevention and mitigation among themselves, authorities and the experts.

In Japan, a law on landslide prevention and mitigation came into force about 20 years ago.

Under this law, local governments must designate the areas prone to landslide and inform the residents concerned as well.

Data compiled by the rainfall observation network system in Japan, which was developed by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, is also communicated to people through the media.

But despite having this in place, a massive debris flow in Hiroshima two years ago still killed 70 persons.

One of the reasons behind this loss in human lives is the failure of the local government to warn the affected residents before the disaster occurred.

If the residents had received the information earlier, all would have evacuated in time, and no loss of life would have occurred.

After the Hiroshima disaster, various workshops and community meetings were held for the residents to teach them about the ha-zards of living on hilly terrains.

These activities and programmes can also be emulated in Malaysia. SlopeWatch, a well-known NGO here, has been conducting awareness activities on slope disasters for some time now.

A new community initiative on slope disaster prevention and mitigation has started with some Bukit Antarabangsa residents in collaboration with the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council in Selangor. This must be lauded and supported by the public.

Activities include a workshop where residents can obtain information on the hazards in their area and rainfall data through cloud sourcing.

A special app has also been developed to facilitate the sharing of information and to alert residents of imminent threats in real time. We are supporting these activities and have offered our technologies and experiences to develop the app with a local IT company.

This app can also be combined easily with the landslide early warning system (LEWS) which can be installed at certain sites and buildings.

LEWS is a common system in Japan that’s being introduced by local governments with the help of geo-technical consultancy companies.

It offers early warning on movement of ground and buildings to residents via mobile phones and email.

If the app and LEWS are used in Malaysia, residents will have better access to information in understanding landslides and ultimately avoid catastrophes such as the Highland Tower’s tragedy.


Letter to The Star, Published: Thursday, 14 July 2016
Sharing data is the best way
By MITSURU YABE, Chief Representative, Oyo Corporation, Kajang
http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2016/07/14/sharing-data-is-the-best-way/

EVERY time there’s a deluge of rain, residents of Bukit Antarabangsa brace for the worst. Infamous for its many landslides, the community has now developed a system which they hope can work as an early warning system.

The system is a mobile app, to be launched by the end of this month, that enables residents to report signs of landslides such as water ponding, uprooted trees and erosions via their smartphones.

Called SlopeMap, it will show a digital map of the hillside community on which digital volunteers can post sightings of signs.

The app is being developed by SlopeWatch, a community-based organisation focused on landslide and slope safety, in partnership with Japanese civil engineering company OYO Corporation which is providing free consultation.

SlopeWatch programme director Eriko Motoyama said it was a chance meeting that started the ball rolling on the project.

“During a conference on slope safety, we were approached by Oyo Corporation chief country representative Mitsuru Yabe, who asked us if we conducted slope monitoring during heavy rains.

“It made us realise that we only monitored after it had rained or as and when we were free.

“During heavy rains, I would send out SMSes to residents to be alert and look out for any possible signs of slope failure, but that was it.

“Yabe pointed out that there were different hazard signs during periods of heavy rains,” she explained.

She said a similar system could have prevented the 2008 Bukit Antarabangsa landslide which killed five people and destroyed 14 houses.

“Prior to the landslide, there were resident sightings of muddy water flowing down,” she said.

Using rainfall information and hazard sightings, the group hopes to find a correlation between the two sets of data to come up with an early warning system.

SlopeWatch chairman Abdul Razak Bahrom said the rainfall information would come from the group’s own rainfall gauge machine in Bukit Antarabangsa.

The app enables users to report landslides or signs of slope failure in their vicinity and collect user-acquired imagery (pictures and videos) showing the extent of damage.

“The system will be synced with the real-time rainfall data from the rain gauge. The more contribution to the system, the more data-rich we become. This will increase its accuracy as an early warning system,” said Razak.

He said the app worked similar to Waze, where users can sign in to report based on their location.

“For example, when it starts to rain, residents will get a notification that 20mm of rain is falling and a prompt to report any sign.

“We call this citizen signs because traditional monitoring or forecasting falls in the domain of government agencies where inputs come from sensors and instruments. But here we rely on humans as sensors, as a form of crowd sourcing,” he said.

Learning from the past
Citing the 2014 landslide disaster in Hiroshima, Yabe said the similar terrain to Bukit Antarabangsa could provide a learning opportunity for both countries.

Following torrential rain in which a month’s worth fell in a single day, several landslides were triggered near a mountain beside the city of Hiroshima. It was reported that 74 people lost their lives in that disaster.

“One of the main reasons why the landslide in Hiroshima occurred is that the residential area was developed close to the foot of the mountain, which can be prone to landslide.

“Also, residents were not aware of similar events in their area and did not understand the hazards or signs of slope failure.

“Combined with the high rainfall within a short period, these factors led to the high number of casualties during the disaster,” he said.

Following the disaster, Yabe said residents in the affected area had begun prevention and mitigation activities at community level.

“These activities include disaster drills, drills using hazard maps to check suitable sites in the event of a disaster, as well as lectures by experts to communicate correct knowledge on disaster prevention,” he explained.

“Because this area has the same physical conditions and built-up environment like Hiroshima, it is good to have a programme that can avert similar disaster,” he explained.

Community Hazard Mapping
In preparation for the release of the app, SlopeWatch conducted a community hazard mapping exercise in January with Bukit Antarabangsa residents association heads.

“Residents have indigenous knowledge where they are familiar with their surroundings. So, we asked them to plot out signs that they have seen and will see if any of these events match with a certain amount of rainfall.

“The workshop that we gave was for them to do a ‘brain dump’, where they note down all they knew about past events and what they perceived as hazards.

“They also marked out hidden streams, embankments and other physical features of the terrain,” said Eriko, adding that some 60 people from 20 neighbourhoods took part in the exercise.

Eriko said the next step would be to teach the community to use the app to start reporting when it rained.

“It is a way for them to contribute towards signs of landslide hazard community mapping,” she added.

From this, Eriko said they hoped to have an early response system in place.

“There has been some interest in resident-initiated evacuation or at least take some measures to protect ourselves from any potential situation. It is usually managed by the authorities, but it takes time for evacuation notices and first responders to arrive.

“That is why we are first targeting the heads of residents associations for the community mapping,” she said.

However, Eriko and Razak said the app was only as useful as the digital volunteers.

“Crowd sourcing is only as good as the numbers, so it is getting them to participate that will be a challenge,” they said.

For now, SlopeWatch and Oyo are collaborating on implementing the system in Bukit Antarabangsa.

“But if other communities are interested, we can teach them as the software can be modified to fit any location,” said Razak.


The Star Metro, Published: Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Digital volunteers to keep an eye on slopes
Bukit Antarabangsa community provides necessary information to help organisations develop landslide warning app
By SHALINI RAVINDRAN
http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/03/16/digital-volunteers-to-keep-an-eye-on-slopes-bukit-antarabangsa-community-provides-necessary-informat/

See more:
http://www.nre.gov.my/ms-my/PustakaMedia/NRE%20di%20Akhbar/Digital%20volunteers%20to%20keep%20an%20eye%20on%20slopes.pdf


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