Extreme-weather app generates 500,000 alerts during Ophelia

19 Oct 2017

MapAlerter founder Brendan Cunningham. Image: Dylan Vaughan

Weather app MapAlerter was on call during Storm Ophelia.

MapAlerter, the brainchild of former Kilkenny County Council digital mapping expert Brendan Cunningham, generated 500,000 emergency alerts from Sunday 15 to Tuesday 17 October as Storm Ophelia ripped across Ireland.

MapAlerter is linked to 11 local authorities nationwide, enabling outdoor staff working in the areas to quickly send in alerts from the field, which are then forwarded to affected residents.

‘When the storm path changed on Sunday, we took a decision to move server providers to a new location, fearing our existing infrastructure might be struck and we’d be left in the dark’

More than 620 individual alerts were issued by council staff during the course of the storm, which were then shared with the wider public who signed up for free via the MapAlerter.com website.

The rapid response alert system also helped staff at various emergency management centres to follow progress on each incident location on an interactive map and see, in real time, where the damage occurred.

MapAlerter automatically links up with Met Éireann to collect severe weather information, as well as data from other tried and trusted sources, such as the Office of Public Works river-level sensors. It all means that emergency teams, the public, media and social media outlets are provided with up-to-date information during extreme weather situations such as Storm Ophelia.

All information shared over the system is geo-focused using Esri Ireland’s ArcGIS technology, so only the correct audience members are ever alerted via their chosen method – be it SMS, an email, social media post or the MapAlerter smartphone app.

MapAlerter was first deployed by Wexford County Council and is now the tried, trusted and chosen alert system for emergency events to be used by other local authorities, which include Waterford, Cork, Kilkenny, Carlow, Tipperary, Limerick, Roscommon, Monaghan, Fingal and, most recently, Donegal.


Extreme weather app generates 500,000 alerts during Ophelia

Image: Dylan Vaughan

Cunningham, a UCD and Maynooth graduate, and his team at Burrell’s Hall Innovation Centre in Kilkenny have built and tested the system over several years, adding new features all the time. It withstood its biggest challenge to date this week when the red storm alert came into force.

“Using texts allows updates to be delivered in a timely and efficient manner, no matter how severe the conditions and no matter how basic a phone staff in the field operate. It doesn’t even require that operators use a smartphone. We put in a 19-hour day on Sunday preparing for Ophelia, and similar time as she struck and left a trail of destruction in her path. Everything ran smoothly, without a single glitch.

“When the storm path changed on Sunday, we took a decision to move server providers to a new location, fearing our existing infrastructure might be struck and we’d be left in the dark. It was exceptionally busy but the system worked and passed its first major severe weather test with flying colours.

“It was hectic, with Cork County Council alone raising 220 ‘Impassable’ road alerts for trees and fallen items. It was refreshing to see later texts with ‘Open’ and road numbers follow through on the system within hours to indicate to road users that these obstructions had been cleared and motorists and other road users could venture out safely.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years