SlopeWatch was set up in 2009, in the wake of the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. The landslide, which swept away a dozen homes and killed four people, occurred just months after the Malaysian government had launched a public awareness and education programme. The programme had previously relied on solid but second research from well-known agencies such as the Geotechnical Engineering Office in Hong Kong and the US Geological Survey, but its playbook was essentially rewritten when residents and the government got a chance to experience a real-life disaster. Residents decided that a monitoring programme to build community resilience was the best way to ward off future catastrophes.
Monitoring for signs of slope failures is particularly important in Malaysia, given that the Titiwangsa Range runs through the country, and within that is the Ulu Klang area, notorious for landslides. The causes of landslides on man-made slopes have often been mundane, with forensic probes revealing that lack of regular inspection and maintenance as the main culprit. With urban development encroaching into hillsides, man-made slopes are becoming more and more prevalent. As with anything else in the built environment, they need to be routinely checked and maintained. SlopeWatch provides tips on how to maintain the drainage system and other infrastructural assets found on slopes. It has also spurred community-based monitoring, which is the first line of defence against disaster, provided that residents learn to recognize the warning signs of slope failure. Among the tools employed in its outreach activities are visual aids such as 3D animation, 2D illustration, cartoons and animated doodles, aimed at helping residents grasp the technical conceprs behind landslide mechanisms, geology and soil behavior. According to local authorities, the number of slope reports is about 140 per year. Before SlopeWatch was created, they did not receive any reports from the public on slope maintenance. The organisation provides a vital conduit for information, visiting sites and qualifying them as true, bona fide slope cases before preparing reports that the authorities can follow up on. The frequency of significant landslides to hit the Ampang Jaya region, where the SlopeWatch programme is being implemented, used to be approximately once every two years. Now, it has been six years since the last major landslide incident. According to SlopeWatch, when it comes to education on disaster risk reduction, experience is the best teacher.
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