disaster recoveryThe Philippines is a tech-savvy country and is one of the top global providers of Information Techology (IT)-BPO services in Asia. In Manila, everyone has a cellphone and text messaging is part of daily life.

And yet when Super Typhoon Haiyian (Yolanda) hit the island nation this month, technology was at first unable to stem to force of destruction or lend a hand at first in the initial stages of recovery. For a while, the communications systems and wired world of everydayFilipinos failed.

As the days passed, and systems were back online, Google Person Finder was able to assist in helping local people find loved ones and relatives. CNN’s iReports platform was also able to assist in the recovery efforts. Smartphones and the long arm of the Internet also helped put the Philippines back together again, but it will still take a long time to fully recover.

As TIME magazine noted in a post titled “How Technology Is Changing Disaster Response,” ‘digital pioneers are helping to radically change how we respond to disasters like [Yolanda].”

When the storm hit the Philippines, the world was kept in the loop with almost second-by-second updates of live tweets, images and videos of its impact, Kharunya Paramaguru reported for TIME’s online website.It was another example of how social media can how we communicate, Paramaguru wrote, noting: but now humanitarians are increasingly using this technology to transform the way we respond to disasters.”

Does the rise of digital humanitarians represent a “fundamental shift in power” away from the headquarters of aid agencies?Paramaguru concluded: “As with other industries before it, aid agencies may have no choice but to follow the wave of digital innovation — or risk
leaving not just themselves, but those in disaster zones behind.”

In related news, “Haiyan” got its name a year ago under an annual Asian naming system which prepares  a list of names a 12 months in advance for all countries in the region. Just an hurricanes that hit the U.S. each fall are named a year in advance, Asian countries use a similar naming calendar. Dozens of nations Asia Pacific area, including Taiwan and Japan and the Philippines, follow the regional naming system for major storms, using words in Taglog, Korean, Japanese and Chinese for the typhoons. In Chinese, ”haiyan” means “sea sparrow.”

Sadly, Super Typhoon Haiyan was not a sea sparrow, but more like a sea vulture, a sea monster.

Local newspapers and television networks in the Philippines took to calling the destructive storm Typhoon Yolanda, according to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau which called it “Haiyan.”

“Sea sparrow” was a name chosen from a list a year ago and without any knowledge that Haiyan would be so devastating. (Why the Philippines government has taken to calling it “Yolanda” has not been established yet, but surely some savvy storm chasers will find out why later and explain.)

Not all weathermen think that naming typhoons in the Pacific region is a good idea, however. “Typhoons bring nothing but negative images, [so naming them doesn’t help],” a spokesman for Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau told the Taipei Times a few years ago. “It has even made the translation of these names, from all sorts of languages into Chinese here in Taiwan’s print and TV media a real headache. Previously we could easily find out when a typhoon in question occurred by looking up the name on an earlier alphabetic list of names, instead of first trawling through this jumbled list of countries as it is now.”

Photo credit: Reuters / Romeo Ranoco


  1. UPDATE: As for hy the Philippines government has taken to calling it “Yolanda” , alert readers, and escpecially Leo Gonzalez on Twitter, and others on in the global commentariat have stated that re @leognzls
    “Typhoon… Yolanda?”, the Philippines has its own list of names for typhoons that enter its area: and Yolanda was one of the 2 dozen names for 2013 storms. In addition to the intl name of the storms, each nation can also choose a name of local origin if it wants, so Japan calls every typhoon as No. 1 and No 2 and so on all the way to Typhoon N0. 28 etc each fall season, rather than give them a name per se, and Manila also chooses its own local names for storms, Leo found this online:


  2. Scott Huler at Scientific American did a piece on the SciAm blog asking why Yolanda was called Yolanda and he did an UPDATE: ”Excellent readers have answered all [my earlier] questions. For one thing, the very kind Dan Bloom advised that PAGASA, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, maintains the Philippine Tropical Cyclone Names list. You can see Yolanda is on the 2013 list, so it all makes sense. The international organizations ascribe names, but individual countries can use their own names as well, which accounts for Haiyan/Yolanda. ”

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