Countries in the Horn of Africa now have a mobile app that allows disaster managers to send out alerts and collect field reports from volunteers. The app is called REACT HOA or Regional Early Warning Action and Communication Tool Horn of Africa.
It was built in 30 days by a startup from Cebu.
“People said it was impossible to do it in 30 days. We were building on three platforms: Web, iOS, and Android. But we already had a framework that made the impossible timeline possible,” said Tudlo Innovation Solutions Managing Director Kristoffer Vince Loremia.
Disaster management using tech
That framework is Tudlo, a disaster education, reporting, and management app that Loremia’s team pitched for a 2012 hackathon for social good held by the DevNet team of Smart Communications at the telco’s regional office in Mabolo, Cebu City. Loremia’s team pitched Tudlo as an app to teach people how to prepare for disasters, guide them during one, and point to safe evacuation places. They used the Bisaya word tudlo because of its multiple meanings: to teach, guide and point.
Loremia spent a month in Kenya to lead his team in building REACT HOA for implementation in member-countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC). These countries are Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
With the app, disaster managers from these countries are now able to send out alerts to users of the app and receive reports from them. The apps also contain safety guides specific to the region. Information on the guides were provided by the Red Cross in Africa.
Loremia said they deployed the app in collaboration with Smart Communications, the Philippine embassy in Nairobi, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Red Cross. The app is specific to Africa and is meant to deal with common problems in the region like drought, violence, terrorism, and outbreaks like Ebola.
It is based on the Batingaw app that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management is using in the Philippines. A custom version of the app, Pindot, was deployed in Albay to help in the province’s disaster management and response.
Loremia said the app was introduced in a hackathon in Africa a few weeks back and will be rolled out in the region through a series of soft launches. A grand launch will be held later next year with representatives from the different government ministries of the region.
Loremia said his team of five based in Cebu will continue working on and enhancing the app, which the UNDP wants to implement in all 54 countries of Africa. From there, they are looking into making it global by bringing it to places like Latin America.
“We never thought this would be global. We never even thought this would be nationwide. We thought this would just be a Cebu-based application,” Loremia said in an interview.
After winning the social good hackathon in 2012, Tudlo went on to the Ideaspace startup competition in 2013. It was among the 20 finalists but did not make it to the top 10 that were to receive P500,000 in investments from the innovation foundation run by the Manny V. Pangilinan group of companies.
They got a needed boost, however, when Smart engaged them to build a disaster app for Albay. That app is called Pindot for Provincial Information Network on Disaster Occurrences and Threats.
“Dreams do come true. This is because we took action and executed well on what we believed in,” Loremia said.
Right now, the company earns its revenues through development work payments by its partners and sponsors. But, he said, they are in talks with companies here in the Philippines and in Africa for recurring revenues to support the different apps.
Loremia said Tudlo is the foundation technology for apps and services that involve reporting and GPS mapping.
He said there were several challenging times when they thought about going into development work as a business. But always, something happened to push them forward with Tudlo and its iterations.
“We never thought we could make money. If the product is really useful and with social impact, the business will follow,” he said.
Max Limpag is a journalist, blogger, and developer based in Cebu. He started as a reporter covering City Hall in 1996. He has written on technology for various print and digital publications since 1999 and twice won the Philippine Blog Awards for technology and sports. He co-founded the new media start-up InnoPub Media.