emergency communications


“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.
LIRNEasia research fellow, Nuwan Waidyanatha, will be part of a panel discussion on ‘Rapidly Reconnecting the Disconnected in Disasters‘ at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum to be held in Bangkok from 26 to 29 July, 2017. The session, titled “Cry for Help!” is meant to expose participants to low-cost, easy-to-use tech and foster an environment which challenges experts through dialogue and participatory exercises. “Rapid Restoration of Access to Telecommunication” (RREACT) – AP is highly susceptible to disasters. Telecommunications, as a critical infrastructure, is vital for crisis management.
There was a popular emphasis on social media at INET Kathmandu. An entire session and an entire panel discussion was on the topic with various speakers telling their story. However, everyone realized the need for a robust internet for such platforms to work. While SMS was most effective during Nepal’s Earthquake response, data and voice were unstable. The use of social media during Nepal’s earthquake response came alive when other systems failed.
Government of Nepal, mostly under the leadership of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, is on a mission to strengthen their national emergency communications. They are facilitating a multi-agency approach to promoting the development of a National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP). Members of the Nepal Emergency Telecommunications Cluster are contributing to the NECP. The Emergency telecommunications Cluster was formed after the earthquake to bring back communications in support of humanitarian operations (ISOC Nepal attended those meetings). The Government of Nepal has recognized the importance of ICT as a cross-cutting issue in emergency communications for saving lives.
“From a global perspective, in our parts of the world people are vocal. We do business with voice. We don’t write big memos, we don’t write big e-mails, you just pick up the phone and you make a call, you talk to the person and you do your business. From that perspective Freedom Fone positions itself naturally in a very good way.” – on YOUTUBE
Everyone is looking for the killer app that can serve the non-digizen (non digital citizens). There is a lot of hype about smart phones but the practical field level thinkers have realized voice is the better solution. CGNet Swara a citizen journalism project, TCS Innovation Lab’s work on the use of speech for querying railway information1, IITM-RTBI’s Agriculture Information exchange, are a few of many Interactive Voice Response (IVR) enabled solutions that are taking shape in the region. Key reasons for the innovations surrounding IVR are to overcome the problems with key pad entry (pressing W thrice for Y) and traditional English based applications. It doesn’t get easier than pressing a few digits to dial a number and speak your mind or listen to a message.
We recently conducted a training and an exercise with Sarvodaya Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members in Colombo, Matara, Nuwara-eliya, and Ratnpura Districts. This was an action of the feasibility study to enable Freedom Fone with voice-based emergency data exchange (FF4EDXL). The training involved exposing them to the Freedom Fone interactive voice response system. The exercise involved the participating CERT members using the Freedom Fone system to supply answers to a survey. Each response was recorded as an audio file (MP3) through the telephone call and stored in the FF system.
In our current emergency communication research aiming to enable interoperability between Freedom Fone and the Sahana Disaster Management System for disseminating Common Alerting Protocol messages and receiving Situational Reports over voice channels, we came a cross the situation where the 2N UMTS modem license had silently expired. During our silent-test this weekend, in preparation for a drill this week, we noticed that the license had abruptly expired. Unaware of the licensing dependency, the Sarvodaya Hazard Information Hub staff were scratching their heads trying to figure out what had happened. Even though the problem was identified, given that it is the weekend, getting any immediate support from the vendor is questionable. This project: FF4EDXL follows from LIRNEasia’s HazInfo and Biosurveillance research.
I was invited by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-D) to present and overview of the Common Alerting Protocol and lessons learned in the Sri Lankan experience in relations to the HazInfo project and the work in progress on the RTBP m-Health project. Further demonstrated the use of the Sahana Messaging Moudule CAP Template engine for generating CAP messages and the SMS/Email Multicasting engine for issuing alerts.  Dialog Telekom is the only Sri Lankan organization that has adopted CAP and has embedded CAP in to their Disaster and Emergency Warning Network (DEWN) for communicating disasters. The DEWN solution in being implemented as means for the Disaster Management Center of Sri Lanka to communicate hazard information to their District level disaster centers and local first responders. CAP surfaced as a standard in 2005 fairly new and unheard of by most in the disaster communication arena in the developing world.
A new documentary film, titled Teleuse@BOP,  recently produced by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) and based on LIRNEasia’s  study on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid, highlights a communication revolution happening in Asia’s emerging telecommunication markets. When it comes to using phones, the film says, people at the bottom of the income pyramid are no different from anyone else; they value the enhanced personal security, including emergency communications, and social networking benefits. Increasingly, poor people are not content with just using public phones or shared access phones (belonging friends or family). They see a utility and social value of having their own phones.
The BBC world service programme ASSIGNMENT this week is about the tsunami and emergency communications in Sri Lanka and includes an interview with Rohan. You can hear it at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/meta/tx/nb/assignment_au_nb.