LIVE FEED Colloquium Jan 7, 2005, Disaster Management

Posted on January 7, 2005  /  4 Comments

Rohan: Vanguard Foundation was recently created which has a center for disaster management. The work I have done at TRC on disaster management will be leveraged in the current context, and we will prepare a document. Pete Anderson is disaster communication expert who will be brought in to design a concept paper to set up parameters of a disaster management system. We are moving very fast on this.

Sequence: Disaster happens, analysed, and transmitted in a secure communication mechanism to the media. Once the warning message is transmitted, the disaster warning process is over. As far as Vanguard and LIRNE is concerned this is a ICT and telecom problem. Disaster education will be undertaken by vanguard at a later point in time.

Since we are not govt, for credibility we need to have wide-based participation as possible. Once Pete comes he, Ayesha, Malathy and I will sit and write the document. A powerpoint presentation will be presented at Transasia for 70 people. I have obtaqined participation of Asian Disaster Preparedeness Cnetre in Bangkok. There were 143 Sri Lankans who have gotten disaster prepapredness training at the above Center and a selection of them will be invited. Armed forces participants, public with specialised knowledge in the area will also be invited.

Feb 4-5th draft of paper will be finalised and press conference will be held. There will be videoconferencing with experts in Thailand, USA and elsewhere. The document will be finalized based on feedback and will be submitted to the Sri Lankan govt.

Divakar makes a strong argument that village local warning system needs to be involved. But I think it needs to be part of another initiative – possibly through the private sector.

Jinendra: But in the document [final report], the need for a local emergency system should be mentioned.

Chanuka: Source(disaster)—Media–report to–people. Do we have the sources? Tsunami warning system.

Rohan: If Asian tsunami warning system is in place that’s where the bulletin will come from. Cyclones will come from Met dept If you have multiple sources what are the potential of abuse? It needs to come from national disaster center. Supposing no tsunami warning system. But we have disaster management center in SL–manned by professionals. They get the first tsunami bulletin, they get 2nd bulletin about earthquake and possible tsunami. They could have then triggered a warning to SL

Chanuka: I will prepare excel sheet–who are responsible organization for particular disasters. And the document will be distributed to media and there can be accountability.

Sabina: If you have a cross-checking system to authenticate the information. You then have reliable info.

Rohan: Maybe operation of disaster warning need to be outsourced to private sector. Probably a telecom company.

Chanuka: Good idea, will such a thing happen?

Harsha: 911 is outsourced in New York City

Chanuka: Will profit make private sector efficient as disaster managers? [see Chanuka’s comment below]

Rohan: Will a government organization work?

Sabina: Can you get tourism industry involved cause they have a motive to have efficient disaster warning

Rohan: Yes; without credible early warning no tourists will come to SL

Jinendra: It will take 2 years to get back on track for tourism. Maybe also get insurance companies involved. They have a stake too for a disaster management.

Rohan: Yes, good idea.

break for cake and ice cream

Rohan: Govt makes policy–civil society reacts. Here we are trying to give proposals. Will there be resistance to accept the plan?

Chanuka: they will probably accept it and run it as their own.

Rohan: We are interested in the policy process. LIRNE is about pushing for certain kind of policy to govt. – publicy pushing solutions for the governement.

looking at the ‘blame game’ as we have seen in SL over the last two weeks – the big problem in disaster management is that its cross-cutting in nature -it requires the involvement of many ministries, departments, etc.

Arun Mehtah has sent info on what we’re (LIRNEasia) doing to the chairman of TRAI (india) recommending that they work with us, rather than re-inventing wheel. Also Pete Anderson will be visiting India with Canadian PM. We may be able to link up with the Indians.

We need a system NOT just for tsunami’s. System must be ready to handle any (at best) form of disaster.

Harsha : (reads listing of natural disasters from ?website..?) …includes AIDS.

Rohan : like drought, AIDS is a creeping disaster. Time is not an issue.

Chanuka : However education is necessary

Sabina: what about epidemics like SARS

Jinendra: recent viral flu in Embilipitya

Rohan: the proposed organisation must be limited in its size, and therefore its scope (eg, it can’t be involved in the actual setting off sirens, etc) otherwise it just becomes another big bureaucracy.

Divakar: I’m concerend that the very ‘last mile’ will not get the message. Can’t issue one central warning in Colombo and then expect it to get to the last mile on its own, need devolvement as much as possible. more channels for communicaiton that are available makes the system more robust.

Sabina: how about a system that alerts all medical services/police services through island.

Jinendra: not all people have TV/electricity/telephone/radio

Divakar: can’t depend on someone by chance hearing a radio braodcast to pick up on warning and take action/spread word.

Rohan: can’t create more bureaucracy!!!!

Jinendra: we need to address the problem of how to communicate with those people who don’t have access to a phone/tv/radio, etc.

Rohan: East has been and is the worst hit part of the country in most disasters- cyclones, etc. They have to be given sirens, claxons, etc. But then, the rest of the coast (West, South) will want the same. This is costly – maintainance, etc. like payphone companies, structure is needed (not governemt) to mainitain it.

Harsha: concern of vandalism of sirens / towers, etc. Hopefully after the disaster that people have faced, people won’t.

Rohan: A robust, resilient solution, that is imperfect is better than trying to go for 100% perfect system .

Jinendra: need alternatives that don’t rely on solar/electricity, etc; how about manual operation (of local warning center)? as in railway crossings

Rohan: people become complacent- they think they are safe just because it is there. What if the siren/rail crossing signal is not working?

Sabina: Suggestion: Centralised organization (govt) sends out signal to next level organisations (Divisional Secetariats); they send it out to the next level (Pradeshya Sabhas), etc…

Rohan: More government?

Chanuka: 24 hour systems don’t work are difficult to maintain in this country – like Sathosa! [see Chanuka’s comment below]

Divakar: what about connecting the warning system to VGKs (Vishwa Gnana Kendra’s – a telecenter network to be established throughout the island under the eSri Lanka Initiative)?

Rohan: There are no VGKs located on the coasts.

Sabina: How about manning them (warning centers ) on shift basis?

Rohan: Won’t work

Jinendra: the number of offices that one Divisional Secretariate will have to communicate to is far too many; communication time will be very long.

Rohan: Any thoughts/ideas on how can we extend this to other countries in the region?


  1. I want to make a clarification to a comment I have made. (Which was either not reported correctly above – inadvertently, of course – or my comment was not clear enough.)

    Rohan said it is better to outsource the operation to the private sector, as a govt organisation might not be the best choice when efficiency matters. I reacted saying a private sector organisation too can be as inefficient as a govt organisation, if they are not driven by direct profit. According to my experience, the private sector in our country is efficient only if they see a direct return in terms of profits, and this case is not profit driven. A boost in image only is not a very good incentive.

    Rohan then asked me for an alternative, but I do not have any off hand. We may need to think more on this. Harsha mentioned 911 is operated by a private company. True. Private public partnership models work very well in developed countries, but I have yet to witness a successful private public partnership in this country. All I see are failures. Both our public and private sectors are not matured enough to form meaningful partnerships.

    I also have concerns about an efficient 24 hour operation – if we maintain the present standards. Given the socio economic conditions of this country, 24 hour operation – I mean an efficient operation, not a nominal one – is not easy. There are so many issues involved, such as transport, security etc. I know this as I myself head a customer support division struggling to establish such an operation. I do not think any organisation in Sri Lanka – except forces – work around the clock, with the same efficiency. Even places like hospitals and hotels run skeleton operations at night. Both the largest state owned TV station (Rupavahini) and the largest state owned supermarket chain (Sathosa) attempted 24 hour operations, but failed. Well, I do not say it is impossible, but difficult.

    The issue here is even if we are capable of running a successful operation for 24 hours at centre, how to do the same at the receiving end. (Say, the centre detects a tsunami at 3.00 am. How can it communicate the message to Kinniya or Telwatte if everyone there is sleeping?)

    I am not trying to be negative, but just trying to point out some of the important issues we might face in the operations. We just cannot simply overlook these issues. The acid test is not our capability to devise a solution, as many think, but the successful operation of it.

  2. Chanuka,
    Sorry about the misrepresentation – not intentional :) Thats the downside of our real-time blogging – with such a dynamic discussion going on, you just have to try and get the main idea of what each person is saying in one line, so you don’t miss out the rest of the discussion.

    And everyone else – please, by all means feel free to clarify/correct/elaborate on any of your points above, as it will add a great deal to the dialog.

  3. According to the Daily Mirror today, Dr. Tissa Vitharana, Minister of Science and Technology says the organisations under his Ministry cannot take the responsibility of warnings – if the disaster happens outside working hours. The problem with this tsunami was that it came on a ‘poya day’ when all the Brown Sahibs were enjoying the lives with their families! (The tsunami spoiled all those fun! How naughty!) So in future, necessary arrangement should be taken so that all the tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and landslides to happen only within the working hours 8.30 pm – 5.00 pm!

  4. Please ensure that this quotation is preserved. We can exclude them from the disaster warning system. It’s a great service on the part of the Minister to reduce the number of government agencies fighting to run the system.