Improving emergency management

Software can prove useful in a crisis as shown by Metamedia Technology who made a map to help people figure out their evacuation status after a fire at the Ming Dih factory

The team at Metamedia Technology developed a map allowing people to check whether they were in the evacuation zone or not. Photo: Metamedia Technology

Soon after a massive explosion and fire broke out earlier this month at Ming Dih Chemical Co factory in Samut Prakan, with an evacuation order implemented for people living within 5km of the explosion, Nitikorn Bunyakulcharoen immediately discussed with his team at software firm Metamedia Technology how to help residents in the area figure out whether they had to evacuate or not.

A sales engineer and Longdo map developer, Nitikorn and his team decided to create a map based on the Longdo Map Application Programming Interface (API), and shared the link (mapdemo.longdo.com/fire-soi-king-kaew) with the public so that people could check the distance between the factory and their location. Hence, they could make a decision regarding evacuation.

"After the evacuation order was made, we saw people on social media question whether they were within the evacuation zone. Our team members discussed and figured out how to apply technology to help solve the problem at hand. Today, almost everyone has smartphones with the Global Positioning System or GPS feature which allows users to accurately track their position. So, we combined the GPS system with Longdo Map API. We intended to create a simple map without any complicated features, so everyone could easily figure out the distance between the factory and their location with just one click," said Nitikorn.

The Longdo Map team spent only two hours creating the map. Nitikorn said they were able to work fast because they already had the Longdo Map Application Programming Interface or API technology.

"Longdo Map API can be further developed into websites or applications. It is similar to a delivery app that allows people to pin their locations by themselves. The map that we developed to measure the distance from the factory was written with basic programmes such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. As a result, we were able to create the map in two hours because we had our own tools. We noticed that people who lived far from the factory wanted to ensure their safety, so we wanted to help them feel at ease," he said.

Nitikorn earned a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from the King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi. At the age of 26, he became a member of the Move Forward Party and a consultant of the Digital New Normal Subcommittee which allows him to use his knowledge to help state agencies.

"I work at a private company which allows employees to experience new technology. At meetings of the Digital New Normal Subcommittee, I exchange ideas with many people in order to make technology accessible. For example, in one meeting, we discussed the use of drones in the agriculture industry. Currently, drone regulations restrict certain areas for drone use but consultants tried to point out that this tool is used to grow crops, so officers should make the drone registration process easier for farmers," explained Nitikorn.

After the Longdo Map API was released, it was shared on social media at @longdocom as well as other channels. More than 3 million users accessed the map in just one day and the feedback surprised the developers.

"I contacted media outlets and asked them to share the map because people were panicking about evacuations. Some people heard about the map from the media while others came to know about it after people on social media shared their distance from the factory using the service. This was unexpected. There was a point when the server became slow because so many active users were accessing the map. We had to extend the server in order to serve more than 3 million users," he said.

"I was thrilled that our technology could assist both state organisations and the private sector. We would like to support and make people realise the benefits of technology during a crisis. Feedback from the public about the map was unexpected. I saw many thankful messages on Longdo's social media as well as on my personal accounts. This made me realise that I have the potential to do many things to help society."

A day after the explosion in Samut Prakan, a fire broke out at a perfume factory in the Lat Krabang area. The Longdo Map team was standing by in anticipation of the news. Since there was no evacuation order, they did not create another map but only pinned the location of the factory on its traffic map at traffic.longdo.com.

In emergency situations such as evacuations, countries like Japan and South Korea notify citizens about the situation via mobile phones using an Emergency Alert System (EAS) issued by the authorities. However, Thailand does not have this system yet. Nitikorn commented that since Thailand has up-to-date technology, the country is more than capable of establishing an EAS.

"An Emergency Alert System does not require advanced technology. Basic technology like SMS can be used to notify users about emergencies. Real-time messages should inform people of what is happening and what they need to do. In Thailand, we have little problem regarding technology since we can receive SMS anywhere and anytime. A state agency should be in charge of sending messages and making official announcements so people trust such messages. During an emergency situation, the state agency should issue updates about the situation and collaborate with other organisations responsible for the emergency. If a state agency collaborates with mobile service providers, EAS can be initiated," said Nitikorn.

The Longdo Map API proved useful during the emergency evacuation and it can be used in other situations as well.

"In times of crisis, we can use technology to help. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we can use the Longdo Map API to pin locations of patients quarantining at home so healthcare workers and officials who send them medication and food can see clusters on the map. They will not have to waste time searching for individual locations. Technology can help us during a crisis and our team will be more than happy for programmers to use our map for further developments in the future," concluded Nitikorn.

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