Draft Concept Paper on a National All-Hazards Warning System for Sri Lanka

Posted on February 5, 2005  /  44 Comments

Comments and suggestions are hereby invited on the interim report: “Specifications of a national all-hazards warning system.”

Draft for comment

The paper is based on international and local expertise and the input from an expert consultation held on January 26th, 2005. All comments received prior to February 19th will be taken into account in finalizing the report. It is intended that the final report will be handed over to the appropriate authorities in government on or around the 26th of February, 2005, two months to the day from Sri Lanka’s greatest calamity.

Comments may be submitted in the comment space below, or alternatively emailed to asia@lirne.net.


  1. quote ” 2.3 Regardless of system design, a common goal of all warning systems is to prevent hazard events from becoming disasters. However, it remains a challenge to ensure that warnings can be accessible to, understood by, and acted upon by local communities and the people most directly affected by threatened disasters. ” unquote

    I have to raise the same old question of how do we communicate with the people is it only in English or use the two local languages “Sinhala and Tamil”

    If you decide to use only English there will be no problem

    BUT your clause “ensure that warnings can be accessible to, understood by” then comes the issue of introducing the correct proper Sinhala and Tamil character allocation table based on full individual Sinhala and Tamil characters into SLSI1134.

    Unless this is solved you will not be able to implement DWS or EWS using a computer other than TV , Radio and limited Mobile users who use Dialog/Microimage system.

    This Dialog/Microimage system also prove the fact one cannot send a SMS to a network other than a Dialog/Microimage user. If Sri Lanka had a proper SLSI1134 with full individual characters this problem would not have occurred.

    So my presentation in http://www.akuru.org become a true and proved reality to the public

  2. Thank you for the comment.

    The above comment assumes that warning messages will be disseminated on text-based ICT systems. While we agree on the importance of those methods, we do not think they will be the only ones. After all only 25% of Sri Lankan households have access to some form of a telephone, including mobile. Obviously, Internet access is much lower. Even in the most developed countries, disaster warnings are disseminated over radio and TV. The standards issue under discussion is not relevant to these modes.

  3. I do not think we have to purposely restrict the channels used to disseminate the warning messages. More the better. Print media is anyway out but we can not rule out any electronic media. However, as we all know, certain media are better than the others. (not because they are faster or high tech, but because they are widely used) So the list of the media we should use are Radio (80% penetration), TV (75%), mobile and fixed telephones (25%) and PCs with Internet / e-mail connections (2%) – in that order. (Please point out if I have missed any possibilities out.)

    We should also note that;
    1. In case of radios, TVs and mobiles it is easy to ‘broadcast’ a message while it is difficult in case of fixed phones.
    2. Radios, TVs and mobiles (SMS) can be real time while a person may not check e-mail on real time.
    3. These media can be used complimentary to each other, rather than using in isolation. (There can be an SMS message saying “There is a tsunami coming, watch TV for more details.”)

    Finally, whatever the media used for conveying the warning messages should be used by public in their day-to-day life. If we were to introduce new means only for disaster warning, (eg. special weather radio sets) that will not be of much help because within few days or weeks those who were supposed to use them will gradually stop using the equipment since they do not see any real need to use them everyday.

    Basically, we come to the same age old conclusion: There are no arguments about the grave need to connect the entire country, through (a) effective (b) interactive and (c) economical communication channels – whether those channels are to disseminate warning messages or not. The question is how to do that! I think that is why we have LIRNEasia!

  4. Vajira Premawardhana

    With regard to disseminating warning messages, we have to take account of the possibility of power failures (our national power grid is anyway unreliable) that would render media such as Radio or TV useless in an emergency. I think we have to resort to a more traditional system (of course as a compliment to Radio or TV) such as Temple/Chruch bells or hand operated syrens to build the backbone of the warning dissemination system.

    Also we can have a network of responsible individuals of the society (eg, head priests, grama niladharis, millitary or police officers, school principles etc) who would be the first to receive the warning, who would then disseminate it to the general public. This would also take care of the credibility issue. Note that I have left out MPs from my list!!

  5. Vajira, as I have mentioned earlier, it is not a case of ‘this media’ or ‘that media’. We should use ALL possible media, if necessary some supplementing the rest, be them ‘electronic’ or ‘print’; ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’; “ICT based’ or ‘non-ICT based’ or whatever. All channels have their inherent advantages and disadvantages. Also one medium might not be a good solution for every community. (for an urban community TV might be excellent while the temple/church bells might be good in a rural environment. ) Most probably we might have to use a combination of the available channels.(ranging from very modern Internet to traditional church bell!)

    However, I am not sure whether we can implement a system where we first warn a responsible individual and them let him/her warn the community. There are practical difficulties involved with such a system given the short period of time left for action.

    Please go through the other threads too, because we have already discussed issues like the possible non-availability of power etc. elsewhere.

  6. Haven’t you all use radios – they work on battery power
    Car radios!!! Transistor radios!!! wireless Police communications (two way) wireless
    Taxi communication.

    Some are single direction communication but this will avoid rumors and people will get correct information for the first few hours which is very critical.

    Also we got to develop a new group of newscasters. In other countries public believe on the NEWS CASTER’s personality than the channel. It is the time we cultivate quality News Casters.

    You all have forgot diode bill boards, Diode Road signs that will come with the highways with back up power.

    The dissemination of EWS/DWS has to be on TEXT and Voice

    Text to voice broadcasting is already a commercial venture in New York local FM stations.

    We got to address the “TEXT” problem which carries a greater weight in future.

    Sri Lanka is talking about VGK and ADSL development Today the computer users are low because of the communication cost. With ADSL all school computers and VGK based computers will be on for a longer time.

    When it comes to text based EWS and DWS it loops back to my question.

    You and I are not talking today’s EWS or DWS!!
    We talk of tomorrow’s technology.

  7. Chanuka and Vajira

    To ring the church bell or the Temple bell or to activate the grama niladhari

    How do we activate the “first person” on the chain !!!! Once that person is activated the chain reaction will follow.

    We got to derive several chains. Like a pyramid scheme. Fix key personals to activate the chain then get it loop back to the original location. This is a low cost and highly effective system

    When I was in the university in Japan and even since I left we have this virtual active chain.

    Example If a lecture is cancelled. The professor will give only one call to the head of the chain. The mgs is moved within few minutes among all the students and the last person in the chain will give a call to the professor. The loop completes at this point. When Tsunami hit Sri Lanka I did get a call from Japan to find out whether I was safe. The loop continue.

  8. Dear Mr. Gaminitilake,

    What you forget most of the times is that we still live in Sri Lanka, and not in Japan. In Japan, the culture acts as a positive catalyst to the communication process. In Sri Lanka the culture acts as a negative catalyst.

    Sometime back, to get my application for electricity to my newly built house at Siddhamulla approved from the Grama Niladhari, I had to waste 4 working days. It was more difficult to meet him than meeting a minister! I have no idea at all how on earth this individual can be contacted during an emergency!

    Another interesting fact is that although 40,000 people died in the recent tsunami disaster, only one — just one , believe it or not — Grama Niladhari was among the dead! (Don’t ask me who provided me with this piece of information!) In a way, this proves that on that fateful day, the majority of the Grama Niladharis were not among the communities they were supposed to serve! So I am not sure even if you can contact a Grama Niladhari in an emergency, how effectively he could pass the message to the public!

  9. It will be a pity if this iniative is also limited to a warning mechanism which, though essential, is not the end of it. Disasters will occure, with or without warning, and a painful truth is that our country is just not prepared or equiped to deal with their after effects. This draft should also deal with communications relating to post disaster issues such as how people who may be cut off as a result of it can obtain asistance. I would also suggest that a probable crisis management process be debated and proposed so that action can result far more quickly.

  10. We appreciate Gerald’s comment (see annex 1, for our response to this same concern raised at the consultation), but we have intentionally chosen to focus on one piece of the puzzle–warning. It is our view that in an environment of much talk and little action, it is best to carve out a manageable activity with a match to our expertise and fix that, rather than reach for the whole and fail.

    I hope that someone else will work on the important post-disaster issues. Once we get this job done, and find that the post-disaster area remains untouched, we may get into it.

  11. True we need an effective warning mechanism. At the same time, people must be pre told what to do, where to go, what to carry etc once they get a warning. Else, there can be more casualties, physical and otherwise, by way of stampedes robberies to property during the absence of occupants of houses etc. Also, once people evacuate their dwellings, we may also loose ways of contacting them. Thus, they should be clearly told where to go and the next course of action should be told (like await further instructions via state TV) or else the confusion and chaos that are most likely to follow can be worst than the Tsunami or what ever comes.

    Secondly, now that a Tsunami came and we know what to do when the sea suddenly recedes, how about informing people what to do in case of an earthquake? Should they stay indoors, crawl under bed, get away from places that are likely to catch fire, go to open ground, what should they do if they are driving, what should the school children do etc should be told now itself. Else, a simple Earthquake warning will be good for nothing.

  12. With reference to the comments made by Gerald, I think I agree with Rohan. (A rare occurrence!) True, we do not say post disaster communication is not important, but due to our limited resources, there is no point trying to do everything. We have to select our priorities and we have taken a conscious decision to go ahead with the Disaster warning system. Perhaps at the second stage, we might look in to the post disaster communication scene.

    As for the comments made by Lakshitha, I cannot agree more. (Perhaps something is wrong. Today I seem to be in agreement with everyone!) In fact, I raised the same point at the conference and I remember Harsha too commented on it. True, the reaction of the people in a disaster situation is extremely important, and the simple fact whether they will survive or not will be decided by the way they react. So it is extremely important to educate the people on the correct reaction in each case. I think Vanguard foundation has already identified that need and started addressing it.

  13. Lakshitha raises the important issue of education: people must know what to do when the warning reaches them. The story of the Tamilnadu children who ran to a cyclone shelter when they herad of the tsunami and drowned (in our January archives, I think) is relevant here.

    Originally the Vanguard Disaster Preparedness Centre (not LIRNEasia) was plannning to engage in a disaster education campaign aimed at school children, leveraged by media. But we found at the Expert Consultation that
    (a) Some disaster preparedness material was already in the school curriculum (years 5&6), and
    (b) The National Institute of Education was working on it.

    Because we do not believe in duplicating effort, VDPC decided to focus on other things. A problem this large, leaves enough room for multiple groups to make useful and complementary contributions. We do hope that the NIE and the schools will move on the issue of disaster education.

  14. The Partnership for Public Warning deals with a lot of the issues we discuss. I found their website very informative. Check for instance:

    Developing A Unified All-Hazard Public Warning System
    The purpose of this report is to propose a national all-hazard public warning architecture and
    to outline some of the issues that will need to be addressed in creating such an architecture.
    November 2002

  15. This was the report that we used as the starting point for our work.

    If only the reference list was included . . .. But I made the call that getting the interim report out on the 5th according to schedule was more important than making sure all the i were dotted and ts were crossed. The references will be included in th final version.

  16. In Sri Lanka most of the newspaers publish a “Aurudhu Litha” the people paste this somewhere in the house and look

    For the first year why not requst the publishers to use the bottom area to print some visual cartoons. What they should do in case of an emergency.

    Second step is using the election registration list — hand over a small booklet. The contents of the booklet can be divided into several areas. Land slides , earthquakes, floodings etc

    UDA and UC , CMC can have Evacuvation areas marked . School grounds , Temples or Churches.
    Build several extra toilets & wells in these areas. The local rate payers can bare the part of the cost.

    Gradually improve these facilties.

    DIG Bodhi Liyanage introduced a “Civil Defence Force” in Wellawatte area. Similar system has to be introduced island wide. Since he has the knowledge Lirne can request him to send a report. Giving merits and demerits & why it is non active now etc

  17. LIRNEasia is not a massively funded organization with multiple staff members. We are undertaking this particular effort through volunteer labor and a small amount of redirected resources.

    It is always more helpful for people to provide us with information (or to do things themselves) than to ask us to do this or that. The web is our way of communicating with the world. If anyone has information to provide, they should use the website. We will be thankful.

  18. Dear Rohan

    The police officers do not undersatnd these technology.
    Sometimes you got to request them, No funds are needed only a letter of Rs 5

  19. As an individual who has been with LIRNEasia, ever since its inception – and even before – I like to add the following note.

    From the very beginning we have decided only to focus on areas we have some sort of strengths. Our strengths were in ICTs and that too mainly in communication. Disaster Management was not within our focus initially. The sole reason why we have decided to play a role in building a disaster warning system, is that because we find there is a communication aspect in that. So I believe we stop there without going into the other related areas like post-disaster recovery, educating about disasters etc. This does not mean we underestimate the importance of these aspects, but simply we like to concentrate on one key issue and find a reliable and effective solution than trying to address so many issues, for which we neither have expertise and funds.

    I believe if someone wants to contribute, there are still enough gaps to be filled in our proposal than trying to deviate from it, and losing our focus. There are so many other organisations who are involved in the education and disaster management aspects, and they might be able to do a better job than we do. Let’s not duplicate our efforts.

  20. My earlier comments were made before actually going thro’ the draft. Now that I had glanced thro the same, I wish to add more.

    On any disaster, a key institute with which a link should be kept both to get and give disaster warning is CEB’s System Control Centre. (CEB-SCC)

    First because in case of a flash flood, particularly at main Hydro catchment areas, CEB-SCC is likely to receive such information faster than any other body in the country. Water levels of most major reservoirs are recorded real time at the SCC and also it is them that come to know of any spilling to any hydro reservoir causing flooding to the down streams. Also, SCC is the main control centre of the CEB giving instructions to all power stations as to who should generate, how much to generate, etc. It is these instructions that decides how much of water is released to downstream areas and thus a deciding factor during floods.

    Second, to have an effective disaster warning system, people should have Electricity. It is the SCC that controls all power stations, Grid Substations and the transmission network of the country. Thus, they should know of any disaster faster than any one else to take appropriate action.

    Third, SCC probably has the most reliable communication network of all in SL. SCC has 4 different modes of communication, namely , Power Line carrier, dedicated micro wave link, normal land TP and VHF based link with all Power stations and Grid Substation in the country. (Even during the Tsunami, SCC had it’s link intact with all Grid substations situated right along the coastal belt despite the networks of most commercial operators getting knocked off instantaneously.) Of course, SCCs communication network is there for a different purpose and thus may not be used for the purpose of large scale disaster warning. But still, this is a key institute that should be a part of any disaster warning methodology.

  21. Lakshitha, are you my batchmate Lakshitha Weerasinghe?

  22. I don’t think we should be looking for a state of the art system to start with. Basically what is needed is a proven, quick and relative cheap working infrastructure and a reliable communication network, leaving room for extensions, additions and upgrading.

    A possible start could be sirens http://www.federalwarningsystems.com/products.php?prodid=1 and tone-alert radio http://www.federalwarningsystems.com/products.php?prodid=25 , and a plan how many to put where, what by whom should be triggered(centrally or locally) and with what sounds and messages for which purpose? When this is set up go on from there.

    Education and awareness is vital but even then people will disregard the warning. Should there be a penalty?:
    False alarms, if numerous, may cause people to ignore an actual evacuation notification. Even in areas like Hawaii, which has a long history of destructive tsunamis, sirens have been ignored. A study (Lachman and others, 1961) showed that during the May, 1960 tsunami, only 42% of the people who heard the alarm evacuated (Figure 10). Many Hilo residents knew about the oncoming Chilean tsunami at least 10 hours ahead of time. More than 4 hours ahead of the first wave, Civil Defense sirens, meant as evacuation notification, sounded for twenty minutes.
    Special Paper 35: Tsunami Warning Systems and Procedures

    This paper is useful for a comparison of media, check Table 1. (page 28) Pros and cons of the evacuation notification systems.

    Should there be a distinction between an alert that urges people to go indoors and turn on tv/radio and one that urges then to flee to open higher ground? One all hazard alarm and one separate evacuation alert?

    In the draft concept paper I think the drawing on page 9 should be a spiral going up in which the education is a part of the process. Every time after a disaster there will be lessons learned that have to be implemented, what could be better and what should be avoided.

    Re 2.16: I miss the explicit breaking in or overtaking of regular broadcasting in case of an emergency or for tv a partial for instance with a ticker or banner or is that implicit?

    The colour coding in the Timeline has to be explained.


    ;) Of course as a gadget freak I can imagine final additions like RFID tagging everybody (apart from all kinds of civil liberty issues). With GPS it would enable to localize people in a possible disaster area http://www.jlocationservices.com/showcase/lbs_platforms.html and alert them of the danger when they are wearing a technology like a video graphics array (VGA) display, in a ring, bracelet or other digital jewellery display that flashes warning key words. It would also help in localizing and identifying them after the event.

  23. Yes Mr Wattegama, I am your batchmate.

  24. The best system may be based on old air-alert sirens, said Timothy Walsh of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. He foresees a system of loudspeakers on poles hooked directly into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather warning system.


  25. Lakshitha, I appreciate your input. All your points are taken. (At least for their theoretical value!) In fact we could not specifically look from this angle because none of had an in-depth knowledge about the subject area you mention. I hope Rohan and Ayesha will not down your comments and include them as appropriate. As for the question whether your suggestions can be practically implemented, let us take the benefit of doubt. Let’s first build a good plan in theory and do the modifications to meet the practical conditions. Not vice versa.

  26. Vajira Premawardhana

    A few more comments on the concept paper.

    I think the title of the paper ” National All Hazards Warning System” itself is slightly misleading. No warning system, however sophisticated it may be, ever can monitor all hazards. Therefore we should be clear as to what hazards we are going to monitor with this system. I believe, the title should be changed to ” Specifications of a National Multi-Hazards Warning System for Sri Lanka” or we should be more specific in selecting what the hazards are. For example another suitable title would be ” Specifications of a Natural, Biological and Radiation Hazards Warning System for Sri lanka”.

    With regard to Funding of the system (page 12) I do not think that a few industries such as tourism or insurance industries should be called upon to generate a funding through a levy. The benefits of the system would accrue to every citizen in SL and its every citizen’s duty to contribute to funding, however small the contribution may be. Therefore I think an indirect tax/levy such as VAT (you can call it National Disaster Levy!!) should be imposed and everyone in the country should contribute. It need not be a large percentage. Someting like .002% added to the price of every good and service should generate a sizeable funding. The sole purpose of the Diaster Levy should be to fund the system so that all citizens would benefit.

  27. Vajira Premawardhana

    I believe that at this stage of the concept paper we need to clarify the policy matters regarding the multi hazard warning system. We have to do this without trying to re-invent the wheel. Some parts of the system are already in existence in some form ( for example refer to the CEB’s SCC that Lakshitha refers to) and can / should / need to be integrated in to the final model.

  28. The vulnerability is hazard specific. For an early warning I would favour the construction of a uniform model for multiple risks (all hazards). The input may come from different sources but the warning process and procedures should be the same and issued by one institution. Simple to educate, easier to remember, credible.

    There is a correlation between risk and development. This report introduces a disaster risk index to frame efforts to better anticipate — and then manage and reduce — disaster risk by integrating the potential threat into planning and policies. It measures the relative vulnerability of countries to three key natural hazards — earthquake, tropical cyclone and flood — identifies development factors that contribute to risk, and shows in quantitative terms, just how the effects of disasters can be either reduced or exacerbated by policy choices.


  29. To my surprise I found this Common Alerting Protocol that does just that:


    More info at OASIS Emergency Management TC:


  30. This may be interesting reading:

    Early Warning Systems: Do’s and Don’ts


  31. An early warning system is only useful if you have taken proactive mitigation steps. Its exactly what you depict on page 9. Human error has been considered and the risk assessment should be on the success/failure rate of each option. You will never have a perfect system. it does not exist. every medium other than print should be used to communicate in a Disaster.

    A Toney system across the island could be a successful medium, dependency on power should not be stumbling block. Is this all for any use? you need funding, you need government approval alienating the govt, even if they are difficult to work with will not help solve the issue.

  32. WRT Chanuka’s reply to my comment, yes I know I was trying to Zoom down to a micro level while you were formulating concepts and specifications carrying macro level magnitudes. Yet, I could not resist the temptation of making the comment as, no matter what mode or what means of Hazard communication that we use like TV, Radio, Telecommunication, siren or public addressing system, the common ingredient behind all that, is electricity!.

    So, hazard warning should not only be communicated to the public but also should be so to key organizations that form the cogs and wheels of the warning and recovery mechanism , electricity being #01.

    Second, if we use a grass root level hazard warning system, that should be a DEDICATED system that cater ONLY to this purpose. Else, if we install PA systems, what “alternative” jobs that it can be used, perticularly during election period, is any bodies guess.

  33. Lakshitha,

    A quick note on your second point. I am diametrically opposite with you here. Well, I believe a dedicated warning system is ideal for more organisaied closed environments. (Say for example the Katunayake Airport or WTO) In those environments people are alert enough and serious. On the other hand, when we talk about the country we have highly disorganised, unconnected and casual environments. We are talking about an environment where we cannot even have an unsupervised Pay Phone system. (You might know how the people themselves damaged the Pay Phone booths)

    So do you think;

    (a) A dedicated disaster warning system will last very long without any supervision?
    (b) Will the communities take a voluntary effort to maintain the system? (Specially if they do not see an immediate outcome)
    (c) Will they ever take a warning coming out of such a system seriously?

    That is why I argue any disaster warning system we use in the rural and urban poor organisations should not be dedicated for that purpose and something that is used in the day-to-day life of the people like Radio or TV.

    Even the temple bell is not a dedicated system. It has some other function.

    At least I do not think practically we can have a set of unsupervised (may be solar powered) country wide PA system for this purpose. It will simply not work at the moment we want.

  34. Yes you are right. But, I was commenting about a dedicated warning system at the “very end”. The information flow up to that level of course should be through existing modes of mass communication. I was mainly worried about the fate of any Public addressing systems put in place specifically for this purpose. In fact, this issue was taken up at a recent IEEE SL section meeting and how a dedicated public addressing system could be (miss) used worried many. Even though we use a siren, the people must be told why the siren is blasted. To do that, we need to have some sort of a PA or Megaphone system, which “could” be dedicated in my opinion. TV, Radio alone may not be much of use if people are in the bed. Thus, to wake them up, there should be some sort of a PA system (like in Japan) and such units should not be used for any other purpose. Perhaps, we may give them to Police stations etc and ask them to maintain them. As for answers to your (specific)questions, No, No, May be.

    Second, as I was commenting about the Grid power, I must also put my warning in writing that any Hazard warning system at the end level should not depend on Grid power.

    With the recent experience, the SCC start receiving calls from Grid subs right around the country requesting it’s feeders to be switched off. So, even if we are capable of maintaining Grid power, we may have to switch it off for other reasons. Thus, it is preferred that grid power is not relied upon. (Sorry I had again commented on micro level matters!)

  35. Story about Thai official who issued tsunami warning and got blamed for his trouble: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2005/01/11/international1335EST0593.DTL

  36. We need to address the sources of hazard detection and monitoring data in more detail in the final text. See for example: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050211094621.htm. Also, we need to explicitly include the idea of ordinary citizens phoning or otherwise communicating information to the EWS, a point raised by Weerabahu in his CDN article.

  37. Dr. Gamini Weerasekera

    “Specifications of a national all-hazards warning system.”

    My experience is that, with the best intentions, maintenance of facilities are ignored. Pallekale Seismic Monitoring station is not the only example of this glaring problem. Ditto the proposed “National all-hazards warning system”?

    In 1994 when I was in the US, I obtained two state-of-the-art mainframe computers, to be donated to Sri Lanka. One machine was a Symbolics (Similar to the computer used to make the movie Jurassic Park) and the other, a DEC VAX. In coordination with Sri Lankan Expats in the US, we shipped the machines to an University in Sri Lanka. (Name of the university omitted to spare them of embarrassment.) The cost of the computers was well over five hundred thousand dollars.

    Prior to acquiring and sending the computers, I received the clearance and fullest support of the Vice Chancellor of the University. Furthermore, my father’s colleague, President D.B. Wijetunge, promised University Grants Commission support for the installation and maintenance of the said computers.

    What happened to the computers when they arrived at university? The machines were not even installed! Essentially the machines were expensive “boat anchors”! (Also, the receipt of the said machines was never acknowledged!)

    Currently seismic monitoring, Tsunami warning systems and implementing agencies are “crawling out from the woodworks”. What is most critical is not only the implementation, but also the diligent maintenance and the strict monitoring of these systems and institutions.

    Kind regards,

    Dr. Gamini Weerasekera

  38. More on packaging the public good [AHWS] with delivery of private goods [insurance].

    Today Ceylinco insurance has announced it is the market leader for insurnce in Sri Lanka with slightly over 30 percent share in both life and general insurance segments. Thier premium income for 2004, was said to be close to LKR 10 billon [USD 100 m].

    While it is true that penetration is very low; only some 5 percent of population have any sort of insurance, the industry claimed that the total insurnace claims from the tsunami was some LKR 5 billion [USD 50m].

    Roughly extrapoliting the numbers, the insurance industry’s current annual premium in
    come is LKR 30 billion [USD 300m] and the tsunami payout alone was one sixth of the same.

    I think it is worthwhile to calculate the cost of private sector share of the AHWS and consider the feasibility of packaging the same with the delivery of insurance products across the board.

    According to today’s statement by Celinco their premium income is growing rapidly [40 percent over 2003], meaning more and more people are purchasing insurance products.

    Perhaps the [net] cost increment on the premium may not be large as anticipated.

  39. Harsha, I have a concern in ‘packaging’ public goods and private goods together.

    In my opinion, the public goods and private goods should not be mixed. At the most we can bring the private sector to deliver public goods, but that too should be under the strict supervision of an authority. Leaving things in the hands of the profit driven private sector can be as disastrous as leaving things purely in the hands of the government.

    Let me cite an example. On last Dec 26th, one private TV channel was visibly late to broadcast any news on tsunami. Why? Usually, they take pride in bringing news first to the people. The reason probably (This is a guess) is that they were telecasting a cricket match, for they would have had a contract. Till about 11.00 pm this TV channel showed us only the match. They would not have to stop it and bear commercial losses. Probably only after they realised the gravity of the disaster they would have decided to stop the on-going telecast. Had it been a low level disaster they would have gone ahead with the match.

    This is the problem with the private sector. Not that they are reluctant to contribute to a national effort, but their prime motive is profit. When there are clashes of interest, it is difficult to predict the way they act.

    Insurance companies partially sharing the cost of AHWS looks like reasonable and practical. But what will they ask in return? Also, will they lose their interest if nothing happens for the next five or ten years? In a business world where the priorities change overnight will the private sector have the same interest in contributing their share for AHWS in another ten years? (Particularly if it failed show any visible results – as we all know it can show results only if there is a disaster!)

    I think these are some of the questions we have to think about.

  40. As we think about the kinds of major disasters we have to address, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes, floods and landslides it seems that there may be merit in looking at the Indonesian solution of merging the metereological and geophysical hazard detection agencies, as described in http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/international/international-indonesia-quake.html?th

    Of course, one could argue that Indonesia is not a model for anything, especially in view of the loud silence about the lack of any warning re the December 2004 tsunami.

  41. The Internet Society is responding to the tsunami disaster by challenging providers of information and communications technologies to find ways to improve public warning. The
    Challenge is stated like this:

    Collaborative actions are necessary to assure that standards-based, all-media, all-hazards public warning becomes an essential infrastructure component available to all societies worldwide.

    The Internet Society invites any organization involved in an aspect of public warning to endorse the Challenge. A Web site for expressing such endorsements is available
    at http://www.isoc.org/challenge

    Among the endorsements thus far are:

    United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction/ Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning

    United States Geological Survey

    United States NOAA/ National Weather Service

    I think it would be good for Sri Lanka to endorse this statement, too!

    Eliot Christian

  42. chanuka, two comments.

    one; i dont know exactly what time sirasa tv announced the tsunami news; but the whole world knows they did a huge amount of coordination and relief work soon after they realized what was going on. and i doubt all this was led purely by a “profit maximization” motive.

    two; insurance industry has a clear motive to collobarate because if they can increase the risk-averse nature of behaviour of their policy holders, their expected payout becomes less. its like the sign boards eagle put up near irrigation tanks in anuradhapura warning bathers that certain areas were unsafe. why did they do it? purely for profit motives? purely for altrustic reasons? or a combination of both?

  43. Harsha,

    Well, without going into the example, let me reword my concern.(No arguments, only a concern)

    Agreed, there are many private organisations who are motivated by altruism. But how far can we depend on their altruism? After all, unlike the government organisations that survive for decades after decades without making a profit of single cent and sometimes making millions of losses (Do I have to give examples?) all private sector firms are expected to make a profit. This is for their very survival. And private sector too is not doing very well right now. So how far can we expect them to contribute?

    Please also note that when we expect the private sector to contribute, the burden in turn will be passed on to their customers. Only 9% of this country has some sort of insurance policies. So this means 9% has to bear the cost of a system which will serve 100%. I do not know how fair this model is.

    My questions is why everyone wants to leave the government out of the equation? It is not only the best player to provide the public goods but also the only player who charges all of us by means of tax for providing us the public goods!! I feel we should force the government to do their part before everyone else. When I pay for something I expect the delivery!

  44. chanuka

    1. i am not for a moment saying private firms should do this on an altruistic basis. readers were supposed to read between the lines.

    2. let me give you an example of what i am saying. think about an insurance company who insures houses for fire only if it is equipped with a smoke alarm and an internal sprinkler system which is paid for by a very small additional cost on the premium [implicit or explicit]. now think what the expected payout in fire claims would be for the insurance company as oppossed to if they did not have such a condition. also think about the peace of mind for the house owner. this is a win-win for both parties.

    3. we cannot reduce the probability of a tsunami, but we can reduce the risk of the expected loss from a tsunami if we can increase the risk-averse nature of the policy holder. as long as the savings of the expected loss due to the warning system is greater than the premium then we have a solution that benefits both parties to the transaction. given the public good nature of the AHWS, the consumer surplus is much more than if it were a private good, meaning the benefits are much much more than what accrues to the parties to the transaction.

    4. so, there is a clear economic incentive for a all parties to package the AHWS with insurance services. who says our insurance penetration will be static at 9 percent? this could be an ideal way to increase the penetration and spread the additional costs.