In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, it was evident that if Sri Lanka along with the other affected countries had an effective disaster warning system in place, many lives could have been saved. An effective national early warning system will not only include technical systems for detection and monitoring but also national and local warning communication systems to notify the public, a process of training local officials and providing public education to respond appropriately to warnings, and preparation of protocols and response plans well in advance of potential hazards.
To address these issues, LIRNEasia developed a participatory concept paper for the design of an effective all-hazard public warning system titled, National Early Warning System: Sri Lanka (NEWS:SL) , which was partially funded by the IDRC . The central focus of the concept paper were the parameters and institutional requirements for and effective early warning system for Sri Lanka. In the concept paper, the issue of public provision of a hazard warning system was raised; as the concept paper states, a national early warning system is a pure public good that will be undersupplied by the market and hence the responsibility for its supply falls on the government. However, it is uncertain and unlikely that the “last mile” of the warning system, including the relevant training, will be provided either by the market or by the government. Although a national warning system using the national media and other means may serve the urban dwellers adequately, the rural residents especially those living near the sea, the source of major hazards (that is, Hurricanes, tidal surges, tsunamis, water spouts etc.), are more vulnerable for a number of reasons. For example, the disparity in access to media along the urban-rural divide is one reason why traditional media channels need to be supplemented with last-mile communication systems in coastal villages. Furthermore, urban centres have greater densities of emergency services and probably more organizations with greater resources to respond in a timely manner to hazard situations than villages. In rural areas, residents are left to their own resources to respond to hazard situations. Training on how to respond to hazard warnings along with last mile communication systems is hence a greater requirement in rural areas.
The general objective of this project is to evaluate the suitability of five ICTs deployed in varied conditions for their suitability in the last mile of a national disaster warning system for Sri Lanka and possibly by extension to other developing countries.
An experimental research design is being adopted to evaluate the role played by a number of factors that contribute to the design of an effective last mile hazard information dissemination system.
The hazard warning system that is being evaluated in this study is composed of ICTs that are deployed to carry hazard information to the last mile as well as the hazard mitigation response that is developed through training. Both these components will be evaluated for their effectiveness.
The indicators of effectiveness that will be evaluated in this study are reliability, reaction time, bidirectionality, and integration of ICTs into village life.
Since the current project is being conducted as a pilot research project rather than an implementation project, it is necessary to deploy the five ICTs identified below in sufficient number of villages to evaluate their effectiveness in different geographical, infrastructural and socioeconomic contexts. The project will be implemented in 32 tsunami affected villages along the coast of Sri Lanka that belong to Sarvodaya’s network of villages. A survey will be conducted among 226 tsunami affected Sarvodaya villages to ascertain their degree of organizational development, the district they belong to and the infrastructure that is available.
Simulated drills will be conducted over a six month period where hazard warnings will be disseminated to individual villages in the quadrants and their hazard response will be systematically assessed. The villages’ response to any naturally occurring hazard will also be evaluated during the entire project duration of 24 months.
The five technologies that will be tested are the following:
1. Dialog Early Warning Network Remote Alarm Device (Dialog Telekom & University of Moratuwa, SL )
2. Sinhala/Tamil SMS with alarm for Java compatible phones (Dialog Telekom & MicroImage )
3. Internet Emergency Public Alerting System (IPAS) with pop-up message (Solana Networks )
4.Disaster Warning Recovery and Response Addressable Satellite Radio (WorldSpace Global Data Solutions )
5. Fixed phone
In order to implement the various components of the last mile hazard information dissemination system, LIRNEasia is collaborating with Sarvodaya, Vanguard Foundation, Gordon Gow from the University of Alberta , Nalaka Gunawardene of TVE Asia Pacific and colleagues with prior experience in disaster communication training (in association with a Tamil speaking trainer who will provide training to trainers volunteers of the Sarvodaya’s Shanthi Sena Peace Brigade.
This project is funded by IDRC of Canada