Disasters — Events

“Panic and chaos are inherent in crises. During the critical golden 72 hours the public need ICTs to mitigate the panic but we are still ten years behind and have forgotten history” – says Mr. Naveed Haq. Progress towards resilient ICTs for emergency communication and crisis response remains poor in Asia and the Pacific. The APrIGF “Cry for Help” – “Rapid Restoration of Access to Telecommunication” (RREACT) was designed to engage the audience and a set of experts in discussing issues and strategies for empowering communities with ICT resilience in support of emergencies and crises.
The two-day workshop (Oct 17 & 18, 2016) in Moratuwa, invited Sarvodaya members from Batticaloa, Colombo, Gampaha, and Kegalle Districts. These participants have first-hand experience responding to the 2016 Western floods & landslide and the 2015 Northeast floods, in Sri Lanka. The objective was to share their tacit knowledge on taking a holistic and practical approach to responding to crises. Then give them the tools to analyze the experience to develop the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) themselves. To that end, we applied community engagement social practices methods for analyzing the knowledge to realize the design parameters for developing the Sarvodaya Disaster Response SOP.
In the policy world, one does not want to be alone. I have even dressed up new policy ideas as variations on existing ones, in order to get them accepted. When Abu Saeed Khan persuaded me that international backhaul was an important issue in Islamabad in May 2010, he was quite alone. When I made the first presentation on the subject to the expert group at ESCAP in November 2010, LIRNEasia was a lone voice in the wilderness. Abu then took the lead role.
I was invited to share my research with Stockholm Environment Institute Asia office in Bangkok. The intention was for SEI-Asia Researchers to possibly identify any areas for collaboration. I themed my talk on “ICT4D action research in Early Warning Systems”. It has been 10 years since I first began my research work in December of 2005. It was important to first establish an abstract definition of an EWS.
A lecture on disaster risk reduction was organized on Thursday 19th June at the Sri Lanka Foundation to consolidate knowledge on the subject in Sri Lanka and share it with other countries, private sector organizations and the general public. The keynote speaker at the event was Dr Stuart Weinstein, Deputy Director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre USA who spoke of the sparse seismic networks and the inadequacies in the tsunami warning system a decade ago. He went on to illustrate the advancements in tsunami warning with the number of warning systems increasing from one to four. Furthermore, the speed at which tsunamis can be detected has improved significantly. (Presentation “Advances in Tsunami Warning Systems Since the Great Sumatra Earthquake of 2004“)  Mr.
From today’s Financial Times: When asked to explain the importance of CAP, I find it helpful to contrast today’s media and disaster-management environments with those that existed at the time of the 1978 east coast cyclone where around 250,000 people were displaced (about the same as by the 2004 tsunami), but only around 900 died (as against over 30,000 in 2004). Then, there was only one electronic media organisation, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. It had six channels, but the news and information on all six channels originated from one news room (I worked there in 1978). We easily coordinated with the Department of Meteorology, the sole entity responsible for cyclone warnings. On the ground there were far fewer electronic media devices than now, but people like the late GA Mr Anthonymuttu were able to effectively move people out of harm’s way.
This is disaster risk reduction week in Sri Lanka. Nothing official, but we decided some time back that tsunami commemoration is better done in the middle of the year, than in the last week of December when everything, including our brains, shuts down. I learned this from my children’s schools where they celebrate half-birthdays for kids whose birthdays are inconveniently situated. We have been running the disaster risk-reduction lecture and discussion event since 2010. This year, thanks to the hard work and initiative of Nuwan Waidyanatha, we have a whole week of activities.
Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan and I participated in the ESCAP consultation that sought input on three documents: a report on the state of optical-fiber-based connectivity in the ASEAN region, a new interactive map of international and domestic fiber cables in Asia and a report by LIRNEasia on resilience of ICT infrastructures. The agenda and links to presentations are here. Following revisions, our report too should be published.
The International Telecommunications Union – Development (ITU-D) sector recruited me to introduce ways in which the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) interoperable emergency communication standard could be operationalized in the region. The audience comprised member state delegates from their respective telecommunications regulatory authorities and their emergency operations centres (or disaster management centres). The workshop: “Use of Telecomunications/ICT for Disaster Management” took place in Bangkok, Thailand; 20-23 December 2012. First, “CAP essentials” were introduced to the participants and then the policy and procedural steps for operationalizing CAP in one’s own country were explained. Thereafter, the participants assembled in to groups to experiment with the Sahana CAP- enabled Messaging Broker (SAMBRO).
The City’s Office of Emergency Management has been relying on Sahana software for its shelter management and registration programs since 2007. Sri Lanka also has it. The Sahana Software Foundation is assisting the City of New York in its use of Sahana software to manage its response to Hurricane Sandy. Sahana software foundation is not just an open source software developer but also a global community of volunteers that volunteer their domain knowledge and computing skills at the time of need. Read the situational report, from Mark Prustalis, SSF President & CEO, below.
People in Sri Lanka felt the tremors from the April 11, 2012 tsunamigenic earthquake. Reports indicate that, before the Government of Sri Lanka could issue any kind of bulletin, within 10-15 minutes of the tremors, people were receiving tweets of the event. Samarajiva wrote – “Tweets kept flying. I and several others active in social media kept emphasizing that only a “watch” existed, that people should be alert and not do anything for now”; see full article in LBO. However, does twitter reach all Sri Lankans?
LIRNEasia’s thinking, right along, has been, if one is prepared to appropriately warn of rapid onset tsunamis then they are quite ready for all-hazards. Then why did the already established warning centre fail on 2011 November 21. Preparation, Warning, and Response are three linked components of the Disaster Management life-cycle common to all-hazards. Development of systems for those three components in relation to tsunami warnings can be extended to all-hazard early warnings. Question is “how does one extend those capabilities to avoid missing deadly alarming events beyond tsunamis such as the 2011 November 21 Matara Mini Cyclone as well as reduce the false warnings?
The 3rd LIRNEasia Disaster Risk Reduction Lecture will be held on 19 June 2012, Tuesday at 1500 hrs at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, 100 Independence Square, Colombo 7. The main talk by LIRNEasia Senior Research Fellow Nuwan Waidyanatha on “making emergency communication effective” will complement the opening presentation by the Director General of the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Center on the Sri Lankan tsunami warning system. It will highlight how the DMC can better perform its role in emergency communication and coordination. There are complexities in managing multiple agencies and offering a common platform to manage all-hazards all-media alerting and reporting. Possibly the harder problem may be the social elements.
In order to establish the fact that the voice quality over currently available GSM networks are poor for converting the voice messages to text. These finds are from the Voice-enabled ICTs for Disaster Management project that field tested the use of an Interactive Voice Response system for extending emergency communications to the last-mile. Situational reports received from Community Emergency Response Team members, through their mobile phones, resulted in an Mean Opinion Score (MOS) of less than 4.0, on a scale of 1.0 – 5.
Patrick Gannon (President & CEO, Board Director at OASIS), in an email, “You provide some very interesting information on the open source Sahana effort and examples of using citizen volunteers for disaster situation reporting. The issue is being highlighted in the 2012 CAP workshop FINAL REPORT.” Get more details on the voice-enabled alerting and situational reporting project from the video: “Do you hear me?” The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) community has nick named us “CAP early adopter” (lol & \0/). This is because in 2005 when the CAP content standard was first released, LINREasia was quick to test it in the HazInfo project.
Every where Government agencies are territorial and fear losing their budgets and ability to stand ground. Therefore, choose to work as a silo with less lateral integration. Such structures are ineffective and lead to irresponsible behaviour at the expense of causing havoc on the citizens. Time and time again we hear of the shortcomings arising from unplanned and ad-hoc procedures carried out in the presence of hazard events. The past experience being the 2012 April 11 Sumatra earthquake.