Ilagan, Juverglen: Sahana Disaster Management System as a Disaster Management Solution In the Philippines


As the world enters into the new millennium, technology become more advanced and continues to develop rapidly. However, this advancement has created an impact on the environment resulting to climate change and increase propensity to natural disasters. In particular, the Asian and Pacific region is becoming more vulnerable to disasters. The Philippines being an archipelago whose area lies beneath the Circum-Pacific belt of fire has always been subjected to constant disasters and calamities. In addition, it is visited by an average of twenty typhoons a year. Recent events such as Typoon Ondoy create havoc even on urban areas not prone to floods before. The possibility experiencing disasters such as floods, typhoons, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, drought, and flashflood is always present.

One of the key short comings identified during the recent disasters is lack of ICT solutions for disaster rescue and recovery. While number of disaster information systems is available, few would provide a robust system for data management support and functionality for disaster management. The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and the World Conference on Disaster Reduction endorsed the role of ICTs in effective disaster reduction. Finding affordable ICTsolutions for disaster reduction is a challenge to many nations in the Asian and Pacific region.Free and open source software (FOSS) is increasingly being used in many spheres of ICTsolutions including disaster management (

The Sahana Free and Open Source Disaster Management System were conceived during the 2004 Dec Asian Tsunami. It was developed to help manage the scale of the disaster and was deployed by the government’s Center of National Operations (CNO) which included the Center of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA). Based on the success of this initial application and dire need good disaster management solutions particularly to handle large scale disasters SIDA funded a second phase through LSF (Lanka Software Foundation) to generalize the application for global use and to help in any large scale disaster. The project now grown to become a globally recognized project with deployments in many other disasters such as the Asian Quake in Pakistan (2005), Southern Leyte Mudslide Disaster in Phillipines (2006) and the Jogjarkata Earthquake in Indonesia (2006). The phase II funded by SIDA did much to foster the capability of the project and the global community (“Sahana Project”, 2005:

Following the Tsunami the system was rebuilt from scratch on the stable Free and Open Source technology stack, AMP ( Apache MySQL, PHP/Perl). The system is available for free for anyone to download and customize based on their requirements and the only latest release of Sahana just before the end of phase II has been downloaded over 8000 times from all over the world. The system is tested to work on GNU/Linux, Windows XP, Mac OS X and FreeBSD operating systems and is also available on a LiveCD or which boots up all from a CD drive without requiring installation. The system is very scalable and It can operate standalone on a laptop without network connection for a single responder up to a server cluster for 1000s of users. The focus on design has been on usability, adaptability and resilience to make it suitable for disaster scenarios (

The primordial goal of Sahana is alleviate human suffering and help save lives through the efficient use of IT during a disaster. Its specific objectives is to bring together a diverse set of actors from Government, Emergency Management, NGOs, INGOs, spontaneous volunteers and victims in responding effectively to disasters. Another is to protect victim data and reduce the opportunity for data abuse. Lastly, Provide a Free and Open Source solution end-to-end available to everyone. The scope of the Sahana project is to be an integrated set of pluggable, web based disaster management applications that provide solutions to large-scale humanitarian problems in the relief phase of disaster (http://www .php?id=dev:home )

Sahana is a suite of web based sub-applications that provides solutions to different problems with regard to the information required for managing certain coordination problems during post-disaster. Beyond being a database of information the value it provides is in a well structured and usable interface and data design making the management of information simple. In phase II the Sahana project release 8 modules that address these problems called Missing Person Registry, Organization Registry, Request/Pledge Management System, Camp Registry, Inventory Management, Catalog, Messaging and Volunteer coordination.

Web Based Application Features

Helping Families and Next of Kin Find Each Other

Sahana help connect families and acquaintances quickly in order for them to support each other. For example in Sri Lanka there were hundreds of bulletin boards with pictures of missing people being pinned on them. Here IT can help with an on line bulletin board where persons can search by name, appearance, age group. Even if the victims or families do not have access themselves it is quite easy for any authorized NGO/civil society group to hook up to the central portal and provide that service in the area affected. There is also an on-line bulletin board of missing and found people which also captures the information of the person seeking to find their love ones. Pictures of the missing person and information such as the appearance, identity numbers and last known location can easily be uploaded (

Coordinates All Aid Groups and Helping Them to Operate Effectively As One

The Tsunami in 2005 at Sri Lanka resulted in a massive outpour of support from INGOs, NGOs. If all groups are not coordinated effectively it results in problems such as clogged up supply routes, competition for providing support in some areas while other areas suffer a dearth of support. Thus, it will result to waste or surplusage of pledged and aid. The coordination requires a heavy work load if done manually which an It solution can provide and save time and resources. This way they could even self-distribute themselves evenly across affected regions just by being aware what other relief groups are doing (

Capturing the Location of All Temporary Camps and Shelters

This sub-application of Sahana keeps track of the location and basic data of all the shelters in the region. It also provides a geospatial view to plot the location of the camps in the affected area.. Regardless of the type of needed to capture information of where it is located and how many people are in them to be able to know how to distribute aid effectively.

The Sahana Camps Registry

This sub application of Sahana keeps track of the location of all the camps in the region and some basic data on the facilities they might have and the number of people in them.

Effectively Utilizing the Pledges of Aid

During the 2005 Sri Lanka Tsunami there was an unprecedented response in terms of aid and supplies, however even 8 months after the Tsunami it was found out that a lot of those pledges of aid are not utilized. The main reason for this is that there is a lack of awareness and visibility to the aid available between those that require and those that can provide it. For example one NGO might get a specific request for aid, however probably only one of 100s of NGOs actually have supplies of that aid item. It would be impractical for this NGO to check with all those 100s of potential places to see if that item is available. Instead what we need is a well structured central repository of all aid being pledged and a track of detailed requests for aid. (

Sahana Request Management System

The Sahana request management system is a central online repository where all relief organizations, relief works, government agents and camps can effectively match requests of aid and supplies to pledges of support. It effectively looks like an online aid trading system tracking request to fulfillment. It provides data on the request and pledges such as category, units, details and status. It also has the abilty to track partial fulfillment of the request.(http:// mod=cr&act=default)

Other Modules of the system

Inventory Management and Catalog System

Keeps track of inventories at a high enough granularity to account for the chaotic transfer of goods and aid. Features includes: tracking of inventories and item classification, inbuilt catalog based on WHO standards, but fully customizable, tracking of the transfer of goods from one inventory to another, tracking and warning of the expiry of aid items and co version of units to allow for summations (
Source: Sahana Demo Module Database 2007.

Child protection module

Keeps detailed track of children and their needs both in a disaster and conflict situation. This model was build specifically for the NGO Terre des Hommes.

Volunteer management system

Helps track volunteers, their skills and evenly distributes them to affected region for an organization. Features include: tracking of volunteers, their skills and their availability, allocation of volunteers to projects, ability of volunteers to manage their own skill and availability information, ability to search for volunteers based on skill and availability.

Messaging module (SMS / email / CAPs)

The messaging module helps to alert responders and victims of new events in their vicinity as they respond to a disaster: ability to create adhoc groups of SMS numbers and email addresses, ability to send SMS messages through a mobile phone attached to the computer, ability to send messages using the CAPS protocol.

Situation Awareness

This module gives an overview of the situation and allow people to add information on what is happening on the ground. Geographic map of situation with markers capturing incidents and objects and ability to attach a picture and text to a marker (

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

There are multiple reasons why Free and Open Source software find a natural fit into humanitarian-ICT applications in general and why there seems to be limited propitiatory alternatives available. They are:

  • Very few countries and organizations today can afford to invest a lot of resources in disaster management when there is no disaster present. While this is obviously true of poor, developing nations, it is also true of richer, developed countries. This is because there are always higher priority items that need funding compared to disaster preparations for a disaster that may or may not happen. A FOSS approach provides a low budget, volunteer supplement and global way to build such systems
  • There is not much commercial interest in developing solutions in this domain as often during humanitarian disasters software licenses are given freely and it almost seems unethical to restrict software. With FOSS there need not even be any delays in getting permission for a license as anyone has the freedom to download the software and use it.
  • Also such systems should be shared, developed and owned globally as the problems they address are all too common for any country dealing with
    a disaster effectively making such software a global public good. The FOSS development and community mechanisms have a proven track record to build such goods.
  • The global community of IT volunteers who can contribute their goodwill to such causes by using their skills to develop and customize FOSS software for the disaster situations
  • As in conflict situations, during disasters segregation arises between Gov, NGOs and INGOs. The main reason is often the urgent circumstances, the lack of transparency and the lack of coordination capacity. So an open and transparent and globally owned system is more likely to be trusted to mediate between the groups. It will also help organizations self-distribute themselves based on what other organizations are doing in the affected region (
  • Finally no two disasters are alike. There are often localizations and customizations needed for the software before it can get applied effectively to the disasters. Some of these localizations include adding additional meta-data around the entities in the system or translating the system to handle entry in a particular language. With FOSS, the code is available for anyone to quickly pickup and make the needful customizations without restriction. Going the open source way can address the above concerns and using the open source development model, it is possible to develop this software at a much reduced cost compared to pure commercial development models (Chamindra de Silva, Sahana Free Open Sources Disaster Management System: Project Overview, Draft, 2007)

Deployment Strategy

The Sahana system can be deployed on a variety of models, ranging from operating totally within a single notebook computer (with or without a portable Wireless LAN) to a fully distributed, networked platform.

Large Scale Deployment

The normal deployment diagram briefly illustrates what a large scale deployment involving multiple groups may look like. It is often the case that the disaster coordination hub is away from the affected region as shown below and that network based operation is often possible even though the affected region might have their telecommunications infrastructure destroyed.

Available Sahana Installation Packages

Each release of Sahana is packaged in 5 main forms to make it easy for people to download and install it. They are given below:

  1. TAR.GZ Package: This is the source package of Sahana and as PHP is a scripting language (no compilation needed) it is a valid deployable package of Sahana. This is the best package to use for a Windows XP, OS X or FreeBSD installation of Sahana
  2. DEB Package: Debian is the largest community based linux distribution and additionally 100+ other distributions are based on debian
  3. RPM Package: For deployment on a commercial Redhat platform mainly, especially together with IBM servers. Additionally there our other distributions (e.g. CentrOS) that uses RPM compatible to Redhat.
  4. LiveCD Package: This is a Sahana CD package that boots the entire LAMP stack with Sahana pre-configured from the CD drive without touching the harddisk. This is ideal for Sahana demos or it is a portable installation of Sahana to be taken to the field with a USB drive.
  5. LiveUSB Package: This package is like a liveCD except it boot the LAMP base with Sahana pre-configured from a USB flashdisk. Lanka Software Foundation ( ~chamindra/docs/ Sahana-Brochure.pdf)

Access can be provided in the affected region with the support of groups such as Ericsson who provide wireless LAN based satellite based connectivity to networks (Sahana Free and Open Source Disaster and Management Project, Lanka Software Foundation 2005).

Lightweight Deployment

If such infrastructure does not exist, Sahana being a “lightweight” solution can efficiently scale down to a standalone laptop and a secured portable wireless access point if short-range network collaboration is required. Such a requirement is often the case in a disaster coordination hub when there is no Internet or power during the initial moments post-disaster. The Sahana system has been tested to work with the above equipment at appox 130W, which can be easily support by a solar panel, should power not be available. Additionally none of the applications depend on being connected to the Internet. Sahana also has the ability to synchronize data between multiple instances of Sahana. What this allows for is for responders or district offices to capture data on victims in the field and seamlessly exchange them with the other field offices, headquarters or responders by exchanging data in USB flash drives or CDs (

Constraints on System

The system is quite flexible to handle different humanitarian disasters but it is Important to specify the boundaries of this system and allow it to focus on its scope and purpose. It must be used in relief, recovery and rehabilitation effort and not to be extensible beyond this. The system is not supposed to be extended to a government data center or similar registry of citizens. The technologies used on this project will have to conform to a FOSS license to ensure it is freely available to anyone.

To ensure ROI and utilization of this system, the Sahana project will have to be presented and showcased to many different organizations to bring up awareness and visibility of the availability of such a project to handle disaster response efforts. Typical place where we to present this system are at disaster management conferences, FOSS conferences, NGOs (Red cross, CARE, Transparency international, etc) relevant UN groups and governments. NGOs and similar groups in particular can serve to provide a lot of domain oriented requirements. It will also have to be hosted on its own website (Sahana Project”, 2005,

Recognition of Sahana and Humanitarian-FOSS

Sahana has gained a tremendous amount of recognition in it’s short tenure both for the project and for the concepts it promotes, which is the application of FOSS for humanitarian ICT problems. The above alignment to FOSS was generalized and named “humanitarian-FOSS”, which is effectively the application of free and open source software to alleviate human suffering and was coined by the Sahana project. This concept finds a natural home not just in disaster management, but in a superset that extends to humanitarian ICT or any other ICT requirement which concerns the improvement of human welfare. We found that the currently taxonomies of projects on well known open source repositories like source forge or fresh meat does not presently allow us to bucket such projects easily and often get dropped into a miscellaneous classification bucket. However we believe there is a lot of potential for growth in this area and if positioned and promoted well, there should be many volunteers flocking to build and contribute to such projects globally, especially as the open source community operates with a strong set of ethics for the benefit of the community at large.

The concept is recognized by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), known as one of the two leading organizations responsible for the FOSS movement. The founder of FSF, Richard Stallman’s aspiration has been “help thy neighbor with software”, where projects like Sahana comes as a specialization of this where it is “help alleviate human suffering with software”. In recognition of this the FSF has created a new award for social benefit that was inspired by the Sahana project. (,, http:// www. /view.php?id686)

Impact on Disasters in the Philippines

PD 1566 The National Calamity Preparedness Plan (Legal Bases of the Philippine Disaster and Management System, March, 2008).

“This Plan embraces all conceivable contingencies, making use of all available resources, both government and private. It also develops self-reliance by promoting and encouraging the spirit of self-help and mutual assistance among the local officials and their constituents. Each political and administrative subdivision of the country shall utilize their own resources before asking for assistance from neighboring entities or higher authority. While emergency preparedness is a joint responsibility of the national and local governments, its effectiveness will depend largely on the skills and resources and the involvement of private organizations and the general public in the area of disasters. Regular exercises and drills will be conducted at all levels to enhance the people’s reaction capability and ensure precision and spontaneity in responding to emergencies. The Regional offices of the departments shall provide similar support/assistance to the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council.”

This relationship shall be maintained down the line to the Barangay Disaster Coordinating Councils and their respective Disaster Operations Centers .Disaster Councils at the Regional, Provincial, Municipal/City and Barangay levels shall be established to complement the National Disaster Coordinating Council. Each Council shall have staff elements, stationed in their respective operations centers, composed of the following:

  • Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis Unit;
  • Emergency Management Information Service Unit;
  • Vulnerability Risk Reduction Management Unit;
  • Plans and Operations Unit; and a
  • Resource Unit;

Each council shall provide operating units for:

  • Communication Transportation Service and Early Warning Service;
  • Health Service;
  • Auxiliary Fire and Police Service;
  • Relief and Rehabilitation Service;
  • Public Information Service; and
  • Rescue, Evacuation and Engineering Service

Among the salient provisions of PD 1566 are the following:

  1. State policy on self- reliance among local officials and their constituents in responding to disasters or emergencies;
  2. Organization of disaster coordinating councils from the national down to the municipal level;
  3. Statement of duties and responsibilities of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), RDCC and LDCCs;
  4. Preparation of the National Calamities and Disaster Preparedness Plan (NCDPP) by OCD and implementing plans by NDCC member-agencies;
  5. Conduct of periodic drills and exercises; and
  6. Authority for government units to program their funds for disaster preparedness activities in addition to the 2% calamity fund as provided for in PD 474 (amended by RA 8185)

The software has subsequently been used by both the Government and civil society in other disasters around the world. These include the Philippines Mudslide Disaster – February 2006. On February 17, 2006, a devastating mudslide killed over 1,800 Filipinos in Guinsaugon in the southern part of Leyte Island in the Philippines. IBM immediately contacted the Sahana core team and the Lanka Software Foundation to deploy Sahana. IBM provided an initial list of required customizations for the Philippines deployment. The customizations were analysed and divided into two groups. The first groups of simple modifications were those that could be directly completed by Sahana clients using the administrative interface. One paragraph about what this interface can support. The second group of customizations required significant modification to the core modules of Sahana. Organization registry, Camps registry, Missing persons and Request management system were heavily customized. To streamline the customization process, a demonstration server for the ongoing modifications was setup at and the IBM team continually reviewed the customizations. The major modifications were completed within 7 days. Over the course of the disaster, approximately 50 organizations and about 1000 missing people were managed and five camps were also established and supported (

The following is a quote from Avelino J. Cruz, Jr., Secretary of National Defense, Philippines, to exemplify the impact Sahana had as a disaster
management system:

“The NDCC and OCD value SAHANA’s contribution to the relief and rehabilitation phases of the Southern Leyte landslides and recognize the tremendous boost to our preparedness for future disasters. While SAHANA cannot solve all the problems in a disaster, it is an excellent tool
to create registries that can provide timely and reliable information on missing persons, donated goods and services, camp locations, and the like. It is technology that can help many people in a disaster. In fact, there is no greater innovation that matters more than that which saves lives.” (

Disaster losses can be reduced through observations relating to hazards such as: wildland fires; volcanic eruptions; earthquakes; tsunamis; subsidence; landslides; avalanches; ice; floods; extreme weather; and pollution events. Systems implementation will bring a more timely dissemination of information through better coordinated systems for monitoring, predicting, risk assessment, early warning, mitigating, and responding to hazards at local, national, regional, and global levels.

After experiencing the destruction of the Leyte mudslide, the havoc created by typhoons such as Milenyo, Ondoy and Feria, The PDCC and LGU’s must consider the use of free and open source software as an important part of their strategic thrust in information technology, requiring that its use be considered when it provides a feasible alternative to propriety software. Developing countries like Philippines, with the resources constraints they face, view free and open source software as a means to reduce the cost of IT investmentsand increase its productivity. The imperatives to adopt free and open source software in particularly in public the sector are motivated by the desire for independence, security and autonomy and as a means to address intellectual property rights enforcement. Open source plays a key role among development agencies including NGOs and INGO’s for effective disaster rescue and recovery. Sahana is web-based free and open source software especially designed for disaster management.

Introduction of the Sahana system made relief efforts more efficient. It improved rapid information sharing and coordination to avoid redundancy, wastage and to provide aid to the right place at the right time. Besides, it provided situational awareness on tracing people and aid distribution which acted as a decision support for policy makers. This resulted in less over laps and more efficient distribution of relief among the victims. Due to the success of Sahana system in alleviating human suffering during Tsunami, it was adopted by Pakistan and Indonesia to manage their respective disasters.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Sahana has been used to manage past disasters in Philippines. This proves that Sahana Disaster and Management System is applicable and useful in times of natural calamities in the country and must be adopted as part of their national disaster management strategy.

Sahana can be of immense help to Asian and Pacific member countries, where 42 percent of the world disasters have occurred during the past three decades ( images /IBM_CRT_Pakistan_Mission_Report.pdf )

The Philippines should invest in disaster management customized and pre-deployed Sahana in preparation for future disasters. It must be customized to cater or respond to typhoons and flood which is the common calamity our country expected to be encountered endlessly.

In this context, Sahana, provides the best option as it is already being developed and customized for disaster management. It offers low cost, volunteer supplemented, global system for disaster management. There is little commercial interest in developing open source solutions during humanitarian disasters when proprietary software is freely available. But Sahana could be downloaded free and use without any licensing fees.

Sahana is a global public good and available for anyone who desires to help in any humanitarian cause. Customization would include localization into the indigenous languages and having voice portals for counties with low literacy rates. The interfaces will include metric oriented reports customized to the decision makers of the various organizations and also a roll up of the public data should be provided to assess the overall impact and relief estimates of the disaster. It should also provide transparency to the aid donors to give a degree of comfort on effectiveness of their sponsored organization. At the same time the information should be secured and should reduce the possibility of data privacy violation or abuse for adverse reasons (e.g. identify theft, property theft). The Philippines have to be receptive and sensitive to these challenges must utilize least cost IT solutions to manage natural disasters. Hence, supporting the development of Sahana disaster management system could be a core objective in the regional agenda to fight against natural disasters.



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