Decision support system using near cloud for disaster and risk management: an interview with Dane Ancheta (BS APS-ACS 2017)


“Design and development of decision support system using near cloud for disaster management and risk reduction” by E. D. Ancheta (right), J. A. Dela Cruz, and A. J. Domingo. Advisory committee: N. Libatique, PhD, G. Tangonan, PhD, D. Solpico, and D. Lagazo. Department of Electronics, Computer and Communications Engineering, Ateneo de Manila University.  Interlinks 13.0 was held last 5 May 2015, 1:00-5:00 p.m., at Convergent Technologies Center (CTC) Rm 413.

by Dane Ancheta and Quirino Sugon Jr

Dane Ancheta is a graduating student of BS Applied Physics and Applied Computer Systems (BS APS-ACS) of the Ateneo de Manila University and is one of the four last BS APS-ACS majors taking this course. After graduating High School from Ateneo de Zamboanga University in 2012, she went on to Ateneo de Manila University on a 100% financial aid scholarship, and a DOST merit scholarship. She worked at Manila Observatory (MO) for her physics thesis entitled “Temporal variability of localized rainfall events in metro manila over 2 years (2013-2014).” She also worked in Ateneo Innovations Center (AIC) for her Applied Computer Systems (ACS) thesis entitled “Design and development of decision support system using near cloud for disaster management and risk reduction.” Her co-workers are April Domingo (BS Computer Engineering) and Jane Dela Cruz (BS Electronics and Communications Engineering). They presented a poster of their work last 5 May 2017 at Interlinks 13.0, an annual research poster exhibition organized by the Ateneo Innovation Center for the School of Science and Engineering (SOSE) of Ateneo de Manila University. The abstract of their poster reads as follows:

In disaster scenarios, the lack of wireless internet or weak cellular network signal poses a very real threat to crucial information gathering and sharing. Using Near Cloud to store, load and upload information, this project has designed and developed decision support nodes that is able to to gather and distribute intelligent information before, during, and after disasters. These nodes are cached in with key information and data needed for disasters, i.e. maps, message reports, and images. The nodes serve as the command and control in early warning and disaster management systems. Key capabilities featured in for the decision support node include: broadcast mode that is broadcasting message via RF, mapping and visualization, data mining, near cloud, and the medical decision support system. A decision support node architecture is then developed and proposed as the main command and control as mobile kiosks. This mobile kiosk architecture is developed with a number of Raspberry Pi 3‘s, each of which are connected to perform and handle one application in a grid pattern.

Below is an interview with Dane Ancheta by Ateneo Physics News:

1. Why did you choose physics?

I could not imagine myself not taking physics.  I chose physics in all colleges that I applied. I don’t want to live my life wondering, “What if I had taken physics?”  

I love science. When I was a little girl, I would watch National Geographic. I’m naturally inquisitive. My teachers were great and supportive, but it was generally my curiosity that drove me to take physics.

2. Can you tell us about your your physics thesis?

I worked at the Manila Observatory for my thesis entitled “Temporal variability of localized rainfall events in metro manila over 2 years (2013-2014)”. My thesis adviser is Dr. James Simpas and Ma’am Genie Lorenzo. The data comes from the, at the time, newly installed dense network of weather stations around Metro Manila. For my thesis, I used at around 24 stations that are at a 5 km radius apart each. Basically, what I did was characterize localized rain events such as thunderstorms and precipitation; bigger events such as monsoons and typhoons are not included. We found out that the most amount of rainfall is experienced in Tayuman, Manila, though Makati City and Quezon City also experience high amounts of rainfall. The probability of rainfall is highest in middle and western Metro Manila, while it is lowest in southeastern Metro Manila. The study characterizes for the first time the areas of likelihood, rainfall and temporal correlation for the localized rain events in Metro Manila. It does not, however, explain such behavior, so we are still looking for an explanation  This work will definitely be continued or taken over.

For this thesis, all data were being sent to Manila Observatory. It is hard work to make sure that the data we are preparing are usable. We don’t get the data “clean”, that is why we have to check if they are healthy or anomalous. The data come from the weather stations that are exposed to the elements. But I did not have to go out as data from these stations were directly received by MO. I used QGIS and a little Python. I had learned many things working on this project.  This August 2017, we shall go to Singapore for the Asia Oceania Geoscience Society ( AOGS) conference. I shall present a poster of my physics thesis there. A good number from the research team is going because we have both the AQD-ITD (Air Quality DynamicsInstrumentation and Technology Development under Dr. Obiminda Cambaliza and Dr. James Simpas) and RCS (Regional Climate Systems under Dr. Narisma) researchers presenting.

3. Can you tell us about our Applied Computer Systems thesis?

In our 5th year, we start working on our ACS thesis under a thesis group with the ECCE (Electronics, Computer, and Communications Engineering) Department. I got involved in Ateneo Innovation Center where I became part of a big research team. On-going projects were laid out and discussed for us. The bigger research team is currently working on Multi-platform ICT Decision Support System UAVs , Vehicle Hubs, Ubiquitous Computing for Disaster Risk Reduction. We settled on the mission control end of the system. There are three of us in the thesis group- April Domingo is from CoE (Computer Engineering) and Jane Dela Cruz is from ECE (Electronics and Communications Engineering). Basically what we do is we receive all information from the responders and UAVs, and develop a system for this flow of information.

In the event of a disaster scenario, communication lines may be cut off due to damages to infrastructure, making information sharing difficult. Information that may be crucial for damage assessment and rescue operation would be lost or would not be transmitted effectively. In the research, we used the near cloud to store, load and upload information, this project has designed and developed decision support nodes that is able to gather and distribute intelligent information before, during, and after disasters.

We built upon the thesis of those who worked on near cloud before us. The previous team used Ionics plug computer, however, since this product was discontinued, we decided to make our own near cloud using Raspberry Pi 3 and terabyte hard drives. Our architecture is as follows: there is a raspberry pi node which serves as a serve/gateway. All other Raspberry Pi units with their corresponding applications are connected to this node. The architecture itself is an enabler: it enables all the applications to run in the same network.

The system also has near cloud capabilities. It acts as a cloud storage, but for a local network. This is done by configuring a Raspberry Pi for hotspot capabilities, while connecting the terabyte hard drive storage to it. Therefore, anyone can connect to the Raspberry Pi network and access all the files stored in the hard drive. Devices such as phones and laptops can access, download or upload (with permissions) files into the hard drive through this network as long as they are connected to the hotspot. The system also has drop box capabilities. This technology will be useful in evacuation centers. Given that communication lines could be cut off and there might not be enough power, it is hard to get information through. But the Raspberry Pi is low maintenance and low power, but powerful enough to make information available for access via the preloaded data in the hard drive. We tried to test this system by connecting about 10 devices, and it can work well in accessing files and streaming videos.

Another capability is our war room display with multiple screens where the interface is shown. This is how it works: responders and UAVs are on the ground send data to the mission control. The communication is done by radio frequency module at 900 MHz, which reach about 5km point to point without walls. If the messages from a responder is being sent, the message will be relayed to the different phones until it reaches mission control. For the responders sending a message to the mission control, the message and location of the responder will show up in the Google Maps API, so it will be easier to visualize where the responders are. This is how information will be received and instructions will be sent out from the mission control.

The most difficult part of the thesis are the times we have to learn the language then and there. We try to solve problems not encountered in class. We used a lot of different languages for different functions, such as C#, HTML, PHP and mySQL. We used Raspbian for the Raspberry pi the Windows 10 IoT (Internet of Things) core, Visual Studio for the interface, PHP for the chatroom, and Google API for the mapping. We have to learn using internet and the kindness of people.

4. Were you under a scholarship?

I am a Financial Aid scholar. Our kind benefactor is a BS APS-CE (Applied Physics / Computer Engineering) graduate and he gives scholarships to students who are pursuing the same course. I am lucky to have a benefactor like that who is passionate about supporting students interested in physics.

I am also a DOST scholar ever since sophomore year. So that makes three or four years. My failure in one class did not impact my scholarship that bad. It had to be put on hold for a time until I passed, but I did eventually get it back. The failure in that class is just a bump. I did study and did well in my other classes, so I did not feel like I was in danger. My QPI was 2.89 even with the failed class. I survived.

5. What are your plans for the future?

I am not sure yet if I want to take engineering or masters. I am thinking of going to China to do my masters, but I still have to consider the requirements, e.g. fixing papers and submissions. I am very nervous, since it is really an open field.  There is no one direct path to go to. There is so much freedom to choose from. So I have not decided yet on what to do.

6. Any parting words to our Physics majors?

The most difficult part of being a BS Physics/Computer Engineering major is the rigor that comes into the work. It is both a difficulty and a blessing. Not everybody undergoes that kind of rigor that is required of physics. We had to learn a lot: even failure is a learning process. I learned to shift focus from just getting good grades to learning something and growing in the course. I did fail one class: Electromagnetics. I try to look on the bright side and say it was not that bad because it pushed me to do better in my studies.

Physics and Computer systems go very well together. As a physicist, it is really important to work with computers and use them for your advantage. It was sad that the course had to be discontinued. We do learn to program using C++ in PS 130 Computational Physics; however I think it is not enough programming for physics. Even if the course does create excellent and competent students, after college they get into web develop or work in IT related fields. Now, there’s no ACS. It is a shame. Programming is so useful.  In today’s age, if you can program, you can hold the world on a string.

Stay curious. Be inquisitive. Never stop asking questions.



An Interview with Dr. Kendra Gotangco Castillo, Program Manager of Klima Climate Change Center of Manila Observatory

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Dr. Charlotte Kendra Gotangco Castillo

Dr. Kendra Gotangco Castillo

Charlotte Kendra Gotangco Castillo, Summa cum Laude and Class Valedictorian of Ateneo de Manila University batch 2004, with the degree of BS Physics minor in Philosophy, has finished her Ph.D. in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in Purdue University, Indiana this 2011 and is now back to the Philippines working as Program Manager of the Klima Climate Change Center of Manila Observatory. Kendra’s work centers on the climate change science-policy nexus and human-nature dynamics. Her most recent research focused on modeling different tropical forest deforestation rates, analyzing both the carbon and non-carbon or physical impacts on climate, and exploring the policy implications, particularly with regards to REDD. She has also worked on the co-benefits aspect of managing climate change, such as synergizing climate change adaptation with disaster risk management, and integrating climate change mitigation into sustainable development. She is interested in the concept of “science management,” approaching complex environmental problems with a big-picture perspective and harnessing interdisciplinary knowledge, methods, and skills.

Below is a transcript of an interview with Kendra by the Ateneo Physics News:

1. How were you able to go to Purdue University?

I applied through the PAEF (Philippine American Educational Foundation) for the Fulbright grant. This grant is simply a mechanism to allow students to study in the US, if you make it through the selection process. The Philippine Fulbright Commission will assist you with GRE, TOEFL, and application fees. They will help you identify schools to match your needs and interests. After coming up with a short list of academic programs, they will send applications to the schools. It’s very centralized—just one application package. They will also source out other funding opportunities and grants for PhD because Fulbright support is only for 2 years. Beyond that, you are responsible for your funding with the help of your adviser. Unfortunately, for hard sciences and technology, this traditional grant doesn’t apply. They have another Science and Technology Fulbright grant but the competition is worldwide as far as I know. For the typical grant, though even I am from hard sciences, I was still accepted because my interest was in environmental studies. I value both competencies – the science side and the management/policy side. I want to be able to help translate research results into something usable in other fields such as in the governance, in crafting better policies. That is why I wanted an interdisciplinary program. So I went to Fulbright and applied for environmental studies, which was an eligible category under the heading of “International Issues”.

2. What is life like in Purdue University?

Purdue University is located in West Lafayete, Indiana. It’s really a university town. If someone asks who is the biggest employer in the city, it is Purdue. It is very unlike studying here where we are very urbanized and cosmopolitan. West Lafayette is a conservative city. It is heteregenous only because of the international students that Purdue brings in.  Businesses cater to student population. What is nice about the community is the influence of the university in its development as a learning community. For example, there is a “Spring Fling” every year that caters to families in the community. It is an outdoor event where the different departments post exhibits, the most popular of which is the “Bug Bowl”. There’s also an organization called Purdue Convocations who bring learning and culture to the community by bringing in Broadway shows, concerts and other musical artists. . These events are accessible via a short walk from your apartment. That was how the community was like.

Regarding access to resources, I was blown away. It’s unlike anything we have here. Perhaps it’s a standard for American universities. But for me coming from here, it makes us see how far behind we are. Every student has an alloted space in file servers. Just login any terminal on campus and you pull up your desktop settings and documents. Computing clusters can be accessed for free. Journal articles can be downloaded off-campus. Software is discounted. There are a number of grants available to students for travel and conferences, which we do not have here. Because of the amazing access to resources, there were times that I was tempted to stay. You could do so much more with these resources at hand. But what would happen if everyone thought that way and not go home? Nobody would try to establish these here in our country. It may be though that some things like developing what is the equivalent of Oakridge National Labs is really out of reach for a developing country. So we must do the best with with what we have. It’s a different kind of challenge.

The downside about life there was that you miss your support system. If you are an international student, it is hard enough to leave your loved ones, but then you also have to deal with a totally different culture and climate. The winters are so cold and dark unlike anything that you have ever experienced here. Times like that, depression is a real thing. Before I left, I said, “Mind over matter lang ‘yan.” When I got there I realized it was not that easy. It is a serious issue that any student thinking of studying abroad will have to contend with at one point or the other. Because it was in Indiana, it is not like East Coast or West Coast with many Pinoy favorite foods, with venues where kababayans come to do a cultural thing. We are a small Filipino community there, so we try to help each other out. We have one rule there: Pay it forward. People help new people coming in. This year, there are three new Pinoy grad students at Purdue. So we passed on things to them like our celphone plans, furniture, etc.. We met with them to tell stories about life there and answer their questions. Life abroad is just so difficult for an individual. We evolve a second family. Support systems are needed so that you can survive grad school.

3. Describe your adviser.

My adviser was Kevin Robert Gurney. He was one of those people who juggle a lot of balls in the air. He is involved in both science and policy . He was very good in both. Maybe that is why he wanted to get me as his student, because in my application I said I am interested in interdisciplinary studies. My program was Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. But even if it was a “Science” degree, because my adviser had an interdisciplinary bias; and because we had leeway to design programs, we put together courses in science and other fields, such as Communicating Climate Change, public policy, and a course integrating models in Climate Science and Policy. I am happy that he gave me that leeway. In this way I did not let go of my other interests. He let me be independent. It so happened that I was the only person working on my particular topic. Other labs have many people doing parts of one project. In my topic we were not yet successful in getting more funding. I finished without us getting the grant. So I worked independently compared to other students who were working together. But it worked out for me. It gave me the flexibility with my time and the ability to come home during Summer and Christmas breaks. I could take my work home with me. For his part, he made himself available for consultation. I was working with a model that he was not himself using. So he gave contacts of people that could help me. That is why I was able to spend three months to NCAR Colorado—three months to better learn the Community Climate System Model version 4. So I really appreciate his making opportunities available to me.

4. Why did you come back to the Philipines?

It is part of the Fulbright contract. But I really intended to come back anyway, because I felt I may be more needed here. There are more things that I can accomplish here. I can make a difference. I do not know if that is being arrogant. I prefer to call it being optimistic. Besides, all my loved ones are still here. You never know how deeply rooted you are until you uproot yourself. I wanted the opportunity to be independent and define my own rules on how to lead my life, but in the end I realized how much I was still tied to my home. So it is a balance, I think. And I guess, it goes for all international students. You have to have sense of being anchored to something. It doesn’t mean you are being tied down. It is like being a kite – you can fly as far and as high as you can without fear of being cut off and floating aimlessly. It is like being a tree – the ones with the deepest roots are those that can grow the tallest.

5. What is your current job?

I am the program manager of Manila Observatory’s Climate Change Assistance Program, which also houses the Klima Climate Change Center.

6. What is your vision and mission for this program?

That is still in the process of being defined, as we are still in discussion as a group. I do not want to be dictatorial. There is value in considering different perspectives. It allows me the opportunity to work with the science but to situate it in a bigger context. Now we are taking hard science and channelling it to generate results that matters, so the efforts of scientists also don’t go to waste. We would like to be able to work in the science-society and policy nexus. I find that there is a lot to learn here, especially in dealing with governance issues. Again, it is a different challenge. If we don’t vary our challenges, we dont grow. I am stepping out of my comfort zone but hopefully also expanding it in the process.

7. Are you teaching?

I am applying to teach part time in the Physics and Environmental Science Departments, because I like to teach, to have a chance to mentor someone, to pay it forward. The challenge is to juggle the MO and Klima duties with the teaching duties, because Klima is in a transitional stage and moving in new direction right now. It takes more work to get the ball rolling. I am hopeful that I would be able to handle one or two courses. I don’t want to let go of teaching aspect.

8. What do you want to say to physics students?

Physics can open doors for them because of the way they are trained to make connections and understand at a deeper level. Their analytical, critical, problem-solving, and trouble shooting skills will be crucial in continuously learning and exploring, in the sciences and beyond. They can try interdisciplinary work. I know that here in the Philippines people often ask where will you going to end up. If you’re in physics, it is true that compared to business, we do not make as much as we would in other countries. But one thing that I like about what we do is that we address really fundamental questions about existence spanning different contexts, cultures, and time. So there is always an opportunity to something relevant to the world. But the challenge is to translate the science into something usable that is beneficial to the community. This is the next step a scientist should take. Ateneans are men for others. If you love what you do and you do it well, the money will follow. So for me, in making career decisions, it is personal fulfilment over money. Again that is probably being too optimistic. But I know people who live that way so it is possible.

Ateneo Physics News: Thank you, Kendra, for the wonderful interview.

Kendra: Thank you, too. For me, it was cathartic.