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New Year’s Eve – a test for SMS-based Mass Alerting

Telcos are consciously gearing up to with stand the “flash-crowd” New Year’s Eve SMS loads. Pushing the SMS loads at the mean time of 00:00:00 plus or minus a minute is stressful. SMS Controllers (SMSC) have to handle the massive burst.

How does this relate to mass alerting? LINREasia’s thinking, the same as the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre (DMC), has been, “if we can do it for tsunamis (meaning tsunami warnings), the we can do it for the rest (i.e. all-hazards)”. In the wake of a tsunami or tsunamigenic-earthquake originating in the Indian Ocean, before the networks get congested, the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre (DMC) must alert multiple first-responder agencies. These agencies are: police, military, government administrators, district DMC staff, transportation (railway), media, so on and so forth; the list is long.The current arrangement the DMC has with a direct link to Dialog Axiata’s SMSC allows them to blast 1000 SMS under 2 minutes. This is the same SMSC that will perform a similar service on New Year’s Eve.

My prior thinking with applying the formula of 3 seconds per SMS to deliver was wrong. I suppose that formula may have been true half a decade ago. The learning comes as a response to inquiries from Dialog Axiata on their SMSC’s performance, following a request from the DMC to improve the tsunami warning/alerting capabilities. The DMC requirements are: 1) fewer than 5 minutes from the first tsunamigenic global reports to alert the 1000+ top-priority first responders and 2) alerts must be disseminated over SMS on to mobile phones, “because our people are not glued to computers nor are they connected to the internet all the time but the mobile phone is always in their hand”, is what the DMC Director General (DG): Retired Major General Gamini Hettiarachchi said.

I had the opportunity to spend three days with the DG during the ITU hosted Emergency Communications workshop. After his exposure to the Common Alerting Protocol and its multi-agency all-hazards all-media messaging capabilities, the DG was eager to improve the current National early warning system to make it comply with CAP. He was keen in implementing a system such as the Sahana CAP-enabled Messaging Broker to prioritize the SMS messaging as well as simultaneously post complete messages in audio and text forms on the web. CAP is capable of disseminating a single entry of a message over multiple technologies.

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