To the Balinese, Mount Agung is the most sacred place on the Indonesian island. But lately, the ‘Great Mountain’ has not been at its kindest to its followers.

Since October, Agung has been spewing gas, triggering tremors and releasing grey rivers of volcanic mud. Tens of thousands living around the volcano have evacuated, and today, remain in shelters. The last time Agung erupted in 1963, nearly 1,600 people died.

As flights to the island now resume, geospatial company Esri Indonesia’s CEO, Achmad Istamar, explains how the authorities have managed the crisis.

A real-time map

Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management has been working with Esri to pull together data from various organisations and provide critical real-time information to first responders.

Given Agung’s history, the government agencies already had “all the data and information they needed”, Istamar says. The “missing link” has been to connect together the data from different agencies involved in geology, disaster and public safety, and create a full picture of the eruption as it happens, he explains.

This process was previously slow and exhausting for officials and first responders, as “by the time a person got all the data and collated them, the information may have changed” and was no longer accurate, he says.

Esri Indonesia sought to address this by developing a smart map providing real-time view of Agung’s activity and its potential impact on people living nearby. It includes both 2D and 3D maps which provide information on disaster-prone areas, refugee points, the number of displaced families, locations of evacuation camps, temporary shelters and public amenities.

An emergency support team developed a format to help agencies easily share their data on the map and understand it, Istamar adds.

Supporting first responders

The map highlights in red the areas around the volcano that are at risk of being affected by an eruption. This is an “important sign” that underscores the “urgent need for people living around that area to evacuate as soon as they can”, he says.

The map also helps “first responders immediately visualise critical infrastructure and vulnerable community members they need to protect”, he says. “They can also identify and prioritise potential threats to communities, and develop comprehensive plans for evacuation.”

The refugee shelter locations are a good reference for non-government organisations working with the government to decide where they can house displaced families and how quickly they can transport people, and medical and food supplies. It also provides information on the number of people at each camp, helping authorities decide whether there is space for more people.

A community effort

Esri Indonesia also built an app to crowdsource information from locals living near the volcano. Officials view these details on an interactive field reporting dashboard, allowing them to revise their response if required.

The app is available in both Bahasa and English and, importantly, can be downloaded by those outside of Bali. This would be particularly useful for tourists who are planning trips and families of those stranded on the island.

While locals prayed in the shadow of the Great Mountain, the grey gases from the crater have reduced to a wisp of smoke. In the meantime, disaster response officials are meditating on data and maps to protect people from a catastrophe.