How a Philippines city uses digital twins for disaster recovery

By Yun Xuan Poon

Mayor of typhoon-prone Cauayan city shares how 3D modelling helps it battle the winds and storms.

Professor Charles Xavier’s Cerebro machine has been a great tool in the X-Men’s adventures. It’s often used to discover young mutants the Professor wants to take under his wing or locate potential threats.

A city in the Philippines has also turned to geolocating to pinpoint areas officials should pay attention to, particularly after a natural disaster. Cauayan has partnered with geospatial startup Graffiquo to use drones and digital twins software for disaster recovery planning.

GovInsider spoke with Bernard Faustino Dy, Mayor of Cauayan, and Goh Seok Mei, CEO of Graffiquo, to learn how digital twins can help disaster recovery and town planning.

Getting a lay of the land


The Philippines is ravaged by 20 major typhoons a year, with about half of them being super typhoons, Mayor Bernard shares. It’s crucial to identify the damage quickly and accurately, so the government can plan for the right resources.

Graffiquo’s digital twin platform converts drone images into a 3D model of the city, then uses AI to calculate how much damage has been done to houses, crops and livestock.

For instance, after Typhoon Ulysses tore through the country last November, the software quickly calculated that it had destroyed an estimated 22 million Pesos’ (US$ 0.46 million) worth of crops. Infrastructure damages added up to 550 million Pesos (US$11.5 million).

The algorithms also identified 7724 families that needed to be evacuated, and the number of fully and partially submerged barangays, or smaller neighbourhoods. “With this data, we were able to distribute right away a total of 36,844 relief packs to address the needs of families,” he explains.

Cauayan officials need to share a detailed report of the damages with national agencies every time calamity strikes. This would take months before the collaboration with Graffiquo, Mayor Bernard says. Inspection officers often met with blocked roads, or were stuck in their own tragedy-struck homes.

“Graffiquo played a vital role in having our assessment being in the air, rather than on the ground,” he notes. The AI software allows them to gather a report of a typhoon’s aftermath “in an instant”, he notes. They can then share this with national agencies to allocate resources.

Smart Cauayan

Disaster recovery is the city’s current priority, but that’s only the “appetiser” when it comes to using 3D models, says Mayor Bernard.

He plans to expand the tool to other areas such as transport, so officials can “control the traffic movements,” he shares. A 3D model could help them reroute traffic to minimise congestion.

Digital twins would also be useful for town planning. Graffiquo’s tool could allow Cauayan officials to visualise new buildings, so they can design, operate and maintain them efficiently, explains CEO Goh.

It could even support Cauayan’s many projects targeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. For instance, the local government plans to set up a food bank to eliminate hunger, Mayor Bernard shares. Graffquo plans to build in capabilities to help them plan for and manage these infrastructure.

Cauayan is looking to bring other cities along in their digitalisation too. It is now working with neighbouring Tuguegarao city to build their own digital twin model.

Predicting disasters

Moving forward, Graffiquo plans to enhance its software to predict disasters, Goh says. Officials would be able to run simulations, and machine learning algorithms would tell them which areas are prone to floods after a disaster.

The startup will make use of Amazon Web Services' AI tools for this, she notes. The digital twin software is already hosted on its cloud platform.

Goh is also looking to integrate data from across areas to give officials a better overview. The platform could pool data on Covid-19 patients, floods and dengue cases so officials can get a fuller picture of the issues citizens struggle with.

Superheroes need to know where the criminals are so they can stop them, and city officials need to know where the problems are so they can fix them. Graffiquo’s digital twins platform could help towns plan and prepare for a more resilient future.