Indonesia: How tweeting about floods became a civic duty in Jakarta

Monsoon floods hit the Indonesian capital in 2015, sparking 100,000 Twitter conversations. Here’s how those tweets were used in the rescue operation

Tomas Holderness and Etienne Turpin The Guardian 25 Jan 16;

Five major floods hit Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, in 2015, sparking more than 100,000 flood-related Twitter conversations in the city.

Jakarta, the world’s second largest city, is regularly devastated by flooding during the annual monsoon. The global proliferation of smartphones has meant citizens increasingly take to social media networks to share information during emergency events like these.

That’s why PetaJakarta.org (Map Jakarta) was born: it’s an online platform that transforms Twitter into an emergency data gathering and critical alert service during flooding in Jakarta. Last February, by asking residents to confirm the flood situation where they were, PetaJakarta.org was able to map 1,000 flooding sites across the city in real-time. The resulting flood map was used by the general public and emergency services alike and was viewed more than 160,000 times.

As far as we know, it is the first site of its kind to produce a real-time map of flooding in a city, driven by social media reporting. It allows citizens to contribute information without requiring them to learn a new technology, and provides answers to critical questions such as: “should I leave work early today?”, “is the evacuation shelter open yet?”, “which routes to my child’s school are flooded?” and “has the flood in my neighbourhood receded?”

Perhaps the most significant success of the system was its use by the Jakarta emergency management agency (BPBD DKI Jakarta). In 2015 the agency used PetaJakarta.org as an early warning system, allowing it to identify and cross-verify locations of flooding, speed up its response, and communicate with residents in flood-affected areas in real-time.

Reports from PetaJakarta.org were also fed directly to the Jakarta Smart City dashboard and to the office of the governor to provide a city-wide overview. At the launch of the platform in December 2014, the governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, called on government employees and residents to report flooding as part of their civic duty.

Jakarta’s citizens are keen users of smartphones and social media - a 2012 study found Jakarta the most active city in the world on Twitter.

This month PetaJakarta.org has begun to train 1,001 government employees how to use the platform during flood events and a second version of the platform has been launched, which integrates reports from the government-sponsored citizen-reporting app Qlue and Pasangmata, a citizen journalism app created by the Detik news agency.

The new version of the map will integrate flood reports with official government data, including river gauge readings and flood heights. This will provide a single point of reference for the emergency management agency to identify and alert residents to locations of flooding in real-time.

While previous funding initiatives have focused on networks of digital sensors to measure changes in the environment as part of the drive for smart cities, on their own these sensors do not create resilience. Digital sensors cannot provide context, convey urgency, or describe where aid is required.

Resilience is built by communities and agencies before, during and after a disaster. Resilience includes the work of volunteers, such as those in northern England who, following recent flooding, organised to clean streets, clear debris, and distribute aid to those in need.

In the information vacuum that follows disasters, residents the world over are organising themselves using social media. With extreme weather emergencies becoming more common because of climate change, cities and governments will need to harness that power.

Tomas Holderness and Etienne Turpin are co-directors of PetaJakarta.org, a project led by the SMART Infrastructure Facility

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