Right now disaster awareness is high. A cyclone was heading toward Sri Lanka’s Northeast Coast but has apparently veered off toward the Indian East Coast. Flooding has started in different parts of the country, trees are falling, transport has been affected. Of course, people are very aware of Hurricane Sandy and the US East Coast because of the power of international media. I found myself also monitoring Hawai’i a few days ago, because they were expecting a tsunami there (it came, but at insignificant wave heights).
A blogger has written on the subject, referring to LIRNEasia’s efforts to change mindsets re disaster risk reduction:
The Sri Lanka Red Cross has an excellent Twitter feed providing real time update and cyclone-related advice (@SLRedCross), but this is only in English. In a country with hundreds of talented app developers and mobile phone content producers, why doesn’t Sri Lanka have an disaster emergency app? Why can’t DMC develop one with a private party?. The only updates (and that too sporadically) people are getting via mobile phone are the ones from Ada Derana or Daily Mirror. Why can’t DMC directly send alerts and advice to the citizens of the country without having to depend on private news wires? It’s all about taking government closer to the people, and being relevant to their needs.
Some may argue that we can’t expect to have systems in place as advanced as the US. I’m not saying that’s how it should be. LirneAsia has been the local civil society leader in furthering the debate on how to better communicate (mainly using ICTs) during emergency situations, through their work following the 2004 tsunami (National Early Warning System – NEWS) and their recent session on Disaster Risk Reduction. But Sri Lanka doesn’t need to be “advanced” to do these things better. Simple things like having clear communications channels between the authorities and the citizenry (and not leaving it just up to social media speculation on whether there’s been an evacuation order for the North-East coast or not), having frequent press conferences, instilling confidence among the people that social services will be provided uninterrupted, providing advice on how to prepare and hunker down, or where to go to receive free and secure shelter.