High-tech on frontlines of disaster prevention

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The Tep Machcha devices are typically installed on bridges in flood-prone areas. Photo supplied

Tep Machcha, which means ‘mermaid’ in Khmer, is neither fish nor man – it’s a water gauge designed to give people living nearby waterways early warnings when floods are imminent. The system is built to constantly gauge water depth and relay data over a mobile network to a centralised web application.

“The device is built with an ultra-sonic sensor along with designed controllers to measure water depth. Normally, it is placed on a bridge,” says Lim Sangva, a co-founder of ArrowDot, which developed the product.

If water levels reach a dangerous depth, the online server sends a warning to the Provincial Committee for Disaster Management (PCDM), which then sends alerts to citizens enrolled in the Early Warning System 1294 (EWS 1294), a mobile phone-based public alert system for natural disasters.

Anyone can register with the system for free by dialling 1294 and following the prompts.

Sangva says Cambodia is facing developmental challenges due to climate change. Longer dry seasons and shorter, more intense rainy seasons have caused more frequent and more severe floods and droughts in the country.

“At the same time, climate change and other issues are impacting agriculture production, affecting household incomes and putting pressure on food security,” he says.

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The devices are solar-powered and transmit data through mobile networks. Photo supplied

Sangva says effective early warning systems enable timely responses to natural hazards and extreme weather events, as well as risk-averse development planning.

“This goes beyond advisories related to changing climatic trends which result from analysing climate and weather data over time,” he says.

Tep Machcha devices are made to monitor climate and environmental data on a real-time basis, allowing the system to identify trends and make reliable predictions of weather events.

The devices present water levels in three colours – green is normal, yellow presents a warning and red indicates a severe alert.

Sangva says the NGO People In Need Cambodia came up with the idea for Tep Machcha and partnered with ArrowDot, an ‘internet of things’ solution company to make the product a reality. ArrowDot designs, manufactures and installs the devices.

Mech Sreyleak, a technical assistant at People In Need Cambodia, tells The Post: “We want Tep Machcha to support the Early Warning System in the possible event of a natural disaster in Cambodia.”

Sreyleak says Tep Machcha devices are solar-powered, GSM-enabled, sonar-based gauges built on open source technology. They are installed at locations vulnerable to flooding as per recommendations from the PCDM.

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Tbong Khmum province’s Boeung Proul commune chief Try Teang with the device. PIN

At a flood-prone region in Takeo province’s Borei Cholsar district, Sreyleak installs the 43rd device in Cambodia. The actual device is a sensor box covered in metal, powered by a solar panel. The water gauge is attached to a bridge or pole.

In a video presentation of the product, Sreyleak says the sensor detects the water level and sends the data to two people in charge of the EWS 1294 system at the provincial hall.

“This water gauge sends water level data to the PCDM every 15 minutes,” she says.

“Now we’ve installed 43 Tep Machcha devices nationwide and 12 devices are active while the others are undergoing maintenance.”

The EWS 1294 website shows the device at work. Preah Vihear’s Sandan district flashes a red-coloured pin to indicate a water level alarm.

A PCDM employee receives the alert and sends out voice messages to EWS 1294 subscribers’ mobile phones, alerting residents well in advance of any potential disaster.

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Data is transmitted to officials, who issue alerts through the EWS 1294 system. Photo supplied

The effective pairing of Tep Machcha devices and the EWS 1294 warning system ensures people living in flood-prone areas have time to protect their properties and evacuate before any real danger arrives.

The EWS 1294 was launched in 2013 by People In Need Cambodia and currently has 114,773 users in the country.

Sangva says: “All NGOs and government bodies involved with disaster response would do well to use the Tep Machcha devices.”

For more information about Tep Machcha devices, visit ArrowDot’s or People in Need Cambodia’s Facebook pages.

Visit EWS 1294’s website for more information about preventing disasters in flood-prone areas: http://ews1294.info/en/home/.