ICTs and disaster conference in Sri Lanka

Posted on June 24, 2006  /  17 Comments

Using ICT for Effective Disaster Management

A hotel that was hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Ahungalle, Sri Lanka is the location of a conference that examines all aspects of the relationship between ICTs and disasters.

One of the guests at this hotel on the 26th of December 2004, Dr Chris Chapman, a theoretical seismologist, wrote one of the best analytical accounts of the experience, which is on this PDF  document.

LIRNEasia’s Executive Director Rohan Samarajiva and HazInfo Project Manager Nuwan Waidyanatha are participating as are a number of our partners in disaster work.


  1. Siddhalepa Vedamahattaya

    Guess who is a guess speaker of this event.

    Good ole Prof. Sam!

    I wonder what Prof. Sam has to say about disasters.

    In fact, he himself is the biggest disaster we have!

  2. Nenasala Disaster

    I am writing this from a so called Nenasala. This is a disaster. there are two PCs with a dedicated satellite connection and the Manager doenst know anything about PCs. Computers are very slow and virus guards have never been updated since the date of installation!!!!

    Manager has no idea about speed or simple stuff. But the PC is full of downlaoded games and screensavers.

    Nobody uses the PCs for anything it seems. According to the manager, his friends come here to play computer games.

    Aho Nenasala!!!!!! I wonder if any of the Nenasalas has gone to right places or right people. If this is what Mahinda R wants (his picture is pasted on the wall) I feel very sorry for him. Wonderful project going into waste due to unprofessional approach!!!

  3. Nenasala Disaster

    How come I see a UK flag in my comments here???? Is it the computer settings or something else???/ Prof Samarajiva or Divakar, answer!!!!

  4. Nenasala Disaster

    There is no any of IMs installed too. No yahoo, MSN or Skype. But prof Sam on TV teaches the public to use GoogleEarth!!! Hype and Reality!!!!!!

  5. Sorry about the flag. This is a feature of the blog software we use. It is sometimes erratic in its identification of the country.

    We have not investigated it thinking it’s an acceptable post-modern quirk that demonstrates the fluidity of nationality.

    Of course, there is always the possibility that the VSAT link you’re using connects to the Internet backbone in the UK, and not in Sri Lanka because Electroteks handles interconnection that way.

    If one is interested in such things, I suppose they could be pursued. But we think of the blog as low-maintenance and spend effort only on important things.

  6. According to the stats counter (you can click on it and look for yourself; it’s at the bottom of the page), someone from Malta/UK (the counter is truly confused on this one) spent about 35 mts on our site, with most of the activity being on this page. I reckon it’s Nenasala D.

    If this is indeed Nenasala D,this indicates that Electroteks is terminating internet traffic directly to Level 3 outside LK.

  7. rohan/nenasala disaster

    i dont understand what you mean by “If this is indeed Nenasala D,this indicates that Electroteks is terminating internet traffic directly to Level 3 outside LK.”

    does it have any significance in the scheme of things, or is it any one prerogative?


  8. No large significance. Here’s what I think is happening.

    Nenasala’s are connected by VSATs operated by Electroteks. While Electroteks is entitled to interconnect with SLTL, etc. under its license, most probably this is not allowed.

    Therefore, what Electroteks is doing is hauling the Nenasala traffic out of Sri Lanka using its satellite links and interconnecting to the public Internet backbone in the UK or Malta. The statcounter is not equipped with GPS or whatever, all it knows is where the traffic joins the public Internet. So it labels an internet search emanating from a Nenasala as UK/Malta.

    In the same way, when some us who look at the website from Sri Lanka are labelled as Singapore, it could be that LankaCom is putting us into the public Internet in Singapore, not in Sri Lanka.

    The test could be this post. Yesterday’s post was made from Changi airport (it had a Singapore flag); today’s is being made for Sri Lanka on LankaCom. Let’s see what flag this carries.

  9. Please tell me whether to laugh or cry.

    Let us recap what we read in the above posts.

    There is a Nanesala somewhere in an outstation. The place is not given. Let us assume it to be at Hambantota.

    This Nanesala has two PCs.

    Let us assume somebody uses this Nanesala to access e-government services from GOSL. (That is one key objectives of setting up Nanesalas. Am I correct?)

    The data travel from Hambantota to a satellite in the geo synchronous orbit (35K km above) then comes down to Electrotek’s Station in Colombo (another 35K km down) then goes back up again (another 35K km added) to satellite and down (add 35K km) to UK or Malta. Everything together 140K. (for double hop)

    Then the same data has to come from UK/Malta to a server in Colombo. I do not know the exact distance. Let us say 100k km.

    This is one way only.

    The response from Colombo server will travel alone the same route. That will be another 240k.

    So even for a simple request the data has to travel nearly 500,000 kms! (One third around the globe, if I am not mistaken) This is not a joke.

    I do not know the user has ever used this Nanesala to access any e-government services. If so, he would have seen a looooooooooooooooooooong delay. The session might have probably expired before he got a response. (So no wonder why nobody uses those PCs)

    In reality, the distance between Colombo and Hambantota might be around 300 km. So the data has traveled more than 1,500 times long distance unnecessarily, creating a looooooooooooooooooooong delay a user might not tolerate.

    Dont we have any other more practical way to connect point A to point B?

    Will anyone use e-government services under these conditions?

    This is only one side.

    Anybody has an idea how much we pay for the transaction described above?

    If I remember correctly Electrotek is charging LRK 1 million per annum per Nanesala for providing these satellite links. That is Rs. 40,000 per PC per month in this Nanesala.

    The above description explains why the cost is so high. Electrotek has to pay for an operator in UK/Malta, in addition to its own operational costs.

    The funniest trouble is ICTA goes through such an expensive and complicated process to provide Internet access to this Nanesala, and (according to the user) nobody uses it! They used the PCs to play computer games.

    Am I supposed to laugh or cry?

  10. I thought of updating on the CTO event which the thread is related to where we did a disaster warnning presentation. It was really a pleasure to get to know that we were among 3 parties in the world who have embarked on such early warnning system based on mobile/wireless technology.

    Mr. Mothilal (Dialog Telekom presented the DEWN (Disaster and Early Warnning System) to the forum followed by a live presentation of the mobile alerting and alarm box. Everyone in the forum were thrilled as they saw a technically ready comprehensive early warnning system based on mobile/wireless technology. DEWN was initiated by Dialog Telekom with it’s partners Microimage and University of Moratuwa DTL Research Lab providing the technology support and development.

    Some of the core features of DEWN includes,

    – Advanced DEWN Broker which supports multi-lingual messages, SMS/CB support, CAP (Common alerting protocol) Compliant.

    – Mobile Applications for Java / Symbian which is capable of displaying a warnning message in all 3 languages.

    – Alarm Box which can trigger a siren and also switch/tune to a warnning radio frequency if available with flash light ability to connect to a emergency call center

    All above are local innovations with local talent and one of it’s kind of the world. And it was great that lirneasia and Sarvodaya supporting this project by even taking a step futher and planning to do the pilot implementation.

    One of the questions people asked was what other countries like Bangladesh can learn from Sri Lanka. Unfortunately I had to say NONE as nothing been implemented. Even though I am optimistic and hope that people will utilize this local reserach & developed product which perhas saved millions to the country, unfortunate thing to note wsa non from the DMC was present and was keen to discuss this matter actively.

    It’s only Sarvodya who’s going to pilot this but as per what I know it’s only DMC (Disaster Management Center) who has the authority to trigger emergency warnning to public. But unfortuante thing is nothing seems to be happening so far. When we get the next disaster the particular organization will NOT be ready to do a public warnning since they are still working on other areas like recruiting people, setting up offices etc. If Sarvodaya can do a pilot and move forward why not DMC?

    I am sure Sarvodaya will get the required authorization to do a pilot but I am not sure when a real disaster happens whether Sarvodaya can trigger anything even to their own network. Perhaps Prof. Samarajiva may know and understand this better to advise and take things foward.

    Lastly what we really need is a implemented system after doing a feild test/pilot and to have something in place as we never know when the next disaster would strike. I want be surprise many more discussions will continue, more forums takes place whilst we get hit from another disaster since we dont have anything implemented to save lives.

    lirnasia/sarvodaya research/pilot project is an excellent opportunity to implement this practically with disaster preparedeness initiatives, community training and other which are part of it. I am sure this project will go strength to strength and even become a role model for DMC to do a proper islandwide implementation.

  11. Harsha,

    How much the guest speaker of this event, Good ole Prof. Sam got after the event? How many did he fool? How smart did he look? A disaster speaking of disasters itself is a disaster.

    Harsha is very smart not to quoate Dino here.

  12. Well I went only on the 2nd day. What I got to know is that most of the government officials didnt turn up and no idea what the reason behind it. Perhaps people who were on the 1st day can comment for you.


  13. Thank you Harsha for your report. Nuwan Waidyanatha (LIRNEasia’s project manager for the HazInfo project that you refer to above as the Sarvodaya Project) is expected to post a report shortly.

    I want to make clear what the LIRNEasia-Sarvodaya-TVEAP-Dialog-U Alberta project does and does not do.

    1. We provide training to Sarvodaya villages to assist them become prepared for all hazards (not only tsunamis).
    2. We are testing a range of communication technologies capable of alerting people even in the middle of the night (unlike radio and TV).
    3. We are also looking at the importance of the organizational strength of a village as factor in effective response.

    We are not issuing warnings. All that we are doing is creating communities receptive to government originated warnings; communities that can receive the warning and take the right actions in response.

    We are not implementing a household based alerting system; our model is community centered. The message will go to the home of a trained Sarvodaya village leader who will then disseminate it to others and lead in taking the appropriate response.

    We are coordinating our activities with the DMC. Unfortunately, DMC does not have enough personnel to keep fully informed of what is going on. For example, they did not have anyone at the Ahungalle Conference.

    Ms Geethi Karunaratne, who is serving at the DMC as a UNDP advisor, was present for a few hours on the first day, during which time she made a presentation. She appeared to be the only government presence (with the exception of TRC staff) on the first day.

    Those listed on the program, but absent, were
    Mr Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister
    Mr Shan de Silva, Chief Minister SP
    Mr Kanchana Ratwatte, DGT (had a legitimate excuse)
    Professor VK Samaranayake

  14. I normally do not watch TV. However yesterday, somebody SMSed me to watch a certain programme. I did not know how much I have missed, but when I put it on somebody unknown to me was talking about VGKs and Nanesalas.

    At the end of the programme I learnt it was Mr. Abeywardena whose firm Electrotecks have provided VSAT facilities to the Nanesalas.

    These are some of the things he said.

    1. VGK model was an attempt of the World Bank to destroy the local cultural values. I (Mr. A) have been able to change this VGK model to Nanesala, which is useful for the country.

    2. Because of Nanesalas now the Internet speed in villages is 100 times higher than what it is in Colombo, so soon people will be visiting villages to access Internet.

    3. Unlike VGKs, Nanesalas promote Sinhalese Buddhist values. That is why we have decided to have Nanesalas in temples. (He gave a long list of the names of the temples.)

    4. It was because of Nanesala programme President Rajapakse won the Presidential Election.

    5. In the VGK model, the plan was to bring the ‘Global Village’ to ‘our villages’. However, in the Nanesala model, the plan is to do the opposite., i.e. to take ‘our villages’ to the ‘Global Village’

    6. Eighty percent of the Sri Lankans live in villages. The intelligence level of all Sri Lankans is same. Therefore eighty percent of the talent in Sri Lanka is in villages.

    7. The future plan is to expand the Nanesala programme to another 10,000 or 20,000. However, we do not want World Bank aid for that. We do it on our own, as Sri Lankans are rich enough (or capable enough – the exact word he used was ‘pohosath’) to do that.

    I just wish to record these without comments.

    I guess another episode of the same programme will be telecast next week, on the same day.

  15. Is the president of this country an idiot to keep this lunatic VKS in the ICTA???? This guy has done enough damages to the country by now and its crazy to keep him in.