On Friday, September 7, 2007, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights (MDMHR), with the support of LIRNEasia, held a meeting on “The Role of Telecom Operators and Broadcasters in a National Public Warning System” with a six of the eight major telecom operators, as well as several disaster management-related government agencies (NBRO, Irrigation Dept., Meteorology Dept., CCP, etc.), UNDP, and a few technical institutes.
Mr. P.D. Amarasinghe, Secretary of the MDMHR, opened the session by discussing the particular disaster role of each of the government agencies asked to attend. He acknowledged the government’s important role in disaster warning. The role of the Disaster Management Center (DMC) will be to disseminate warnings to first responders through various means – RANet, SMS, fax. First responders will be media, police and armed forces, district coordinators of DMC, and other organizations (NGOs, community). Currently, the MDMHR is in the process of developing a proposal for a network of dissemination towers at Hikkaduwa, Kalmunai and Point Pedro. There will be a total of 50 by the end of this year (latest, Jan/Feb 2008). With further funding, the MDMHR will establish 10 EOCs, 4 EMC, in addition to 4 managed by police & armed forces. Thus, he declared that the basic warning system is in place and asked how might the telecom operators contribute to a public warning notification system.
Major General Gamini Hettiarachchi, Director General of the DMC gave a presentation on the Disaster Early Warning and Dissemination Strategy of Sri Lanka. He reviewed the progress of disaster management since the tsunami, through the Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2005, and the establishment of the National Council on Disaster Management in the same year. He stated that there are currently 3 early warning towers, but by the end of next year there should be a total of 150. Emergency response committees have been formed including SLT, municipalities, 25 district secretaries and 9 province secretaries.
Mr. Anjula Godakumbara from Dialog Telekom made a presentation on Dialog’s involvement in early warning dissemination. Dialog and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights have signed an MoU. Dialog along with MicroImage and the University of Moratuwa Research Lab looked into using GSM communication in disaster early warning dissemination by setting up the Disaster and Early Warning Network (DEWN). This has SMS and cell broadcast capabilities. The benefits of the DEWN system is that it is low-cost and uses existing communication infrastructure. Dialog reiterated the fact that only the DMC has the authority to send disaster warnings. For more information on this initiative see www.dialog.lk/dewn.
Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Executive Director – LIRNEasia, gave a presentation on “Effective use of telecom & electronic media in disaster risk reduction”. He asked how will the DMC communicate with the media and the phone companies. The government must have internal protocols which must be double-checked with government officials. There must a technically sound system in place to get to all media and must be capable of showing if people got the message and in the right language. LIRNEasia recommends the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) system with additional software which is single input, multi-output, multi-language. This can be developed by LIRNEasia within a few months. Essentially this means that once a button is pressed, the software will translate the message accordingly and send the message by SMS, cell broadcast, fax, etc. The government is clearly interested in standard procedures and templates. Therefore, it would be in its best interest to approve a standard template in the language and simply insert the proper word as necessary. Prof. Samarajiva posed yet another question: How might the government ensure that the person issuing the warning is reliable and not someone who plans to sabotage the process? There must be some sort of encryption or verification method so that receivers know that the warning is official.
In discussing the use of ICTs in public warning (an area not covered by the Last-Mile HazInfo Project), Samarajiva suggested that two of the most difficult cases be addressed: a passenger in a moving train and a tourist at the Yala National Park. If public warning can reach these two individuals, all the other less difficult problems can be solved. In both cases, he suggested that cell broadcasting would be the most important technology, though there may be areas within Yala that would be out of signal coverage, in which case no public warning was possible.
The discussion that followed the presentations. Mr. Hettiarachchi called for a link with service providers to develop automated procedures. Secretary Amarasinghe suggested that there be a technical committee set up for hearing recommendations on early warning from telecom providers and broadcasters. It was decided that there would be two separate technical committees – one for telecom providers and the other for broadcasters. Dates and agendas for the first technical committee meetings of telecom providers and broadcasters were not discussed.
Mr. U.W.L. Chandradasa, Director – DMC, wrapped up the session by reiterating that the DMC is responsible for disseminating warning messages. Regarding first responders, he agreed that other agencies could be involved. He acknowledged that government alone cannot take charge of “Last Mile” warning without the contributions of telecom providers, broadcasters and the private sector.
The presentation is at ministry-of-dmhr-7sep07final.ppt.