Higher accuracy in forecasting flood

(Standing from right) Salwa and Mohd Razali speaking about the PRAB programme at DID Malaysia National Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre.

AN improved version of the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) website, which includes a better alert system on impending floods around Malaysia, is scheduled to go live by the end of October.

DID Malaysia National Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre senior principal assistant director Dr Salwa Ramly said the new website (prab.water.gov.my) included an alert system that would warn the public on floods two days before the incident, based on forecasts.

“It will replace the present website (publicinfobanjir.water.gov.my) that currently displays live data but without an alert system, ” she said.

“The website’s data is derived from the department’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Programme (Program Ramalan dan Amaran Banjir or PRAB).”

Salwa and centre director Mohd Razali Husain were speaking during a briefing on the Flood Forecasting and Warning Campaign (Kempen Ramalan dan Amaran Informasi Banjir or Karib) and to give an update on PRAB at the centre’s office in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.

“Karib, which was introduced late last year, aims to empower communities through information and knowledge so they are better prepared to deal with monsoon floods, ” said Mohd Razali.

“We have held events at schools but had to hold off other planned activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So for now we will be tapping into mainstream media and social media to raise awareness.”

Mohd Razali said Karib was driven by PRAB, an innovative and comprehensive system that was able to issue a forecast seven days ahead and trigger an alert two days prior to a flood incident.

“Based on our flood modelling system and simulation, PRAB has an 85% accuracy rate between what is forecast and the actual incident, ” said Salwa.

“PRAB derives its information from big data, including the Meteorology Department’s forecast, DID’s telemetry station on rainfall data and river level, crowdsourcing and network monitoring system.”

Mohd Razali said PRAB was created following the massive floods in December 2014 that hit six states — Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Perak, Perlis and Johor.

“PRAB aims to give affected residents and relevant agencies enough time to act early, reduce loss of public property and enable more efficient logistics and relief centre preparations, ” he said, adding that the relevant agencies included the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), Civil Defence Department, Fire and Rescue Services Department and the police.

“PRAB will be implemented in several phases. Phase one, which started in 2015 and is expected to be completed in 2022, covers three major river basins — Sungai Kelantan, Sungai Terengganu and Sungai Pahang.

“Phase two, which started in 2018, is expected to be completed by 2025. It will involve flood forecasting models in 38 river basins nationwide, including Sabah and Sarawak.”

Once PRAB forecasts a flood, Mohd Razali said its operation centre would notify Nadma to have the relevant agencies on standby.

“Nadma will issue SMS alerts two days prior to an expected flood to affected residents based on their postcodes.

“The PRAB system also has an automatic siren that is activated once the river level reaches the warning threshold. The siren will ring three times and can be heard within a 1km radius.

“Combined, the SMS alert and siren serve to give those affected enough time to make their preparations and evacuate, ” he said, adding that DID Malaysia had 472 siren stations nationwide and 126 for the PRAB system.

Mohd Razali said the Karib campaign had to be enhanced as, based on a February survey, only 5.5% of residents living around the three river basins built under PRAB’s phase one were aware of the system.

“PRAB cannot forecast flash flood as the system relies on real-time data derived over a period of time to make accurate predictions whereas flash floods are sudden and can be triggered by other factors, ” said Salwa.

“While DID Malaysia’s system is not integrated with the Marine Department (the agency that monitors high tides), PRAB can trigger an alert if it detects a potential flood.”

DID Malaysia’s flood alerts can be viewed via its website as well as Facebook and Twitter platforms.

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