By Nuwan Waidyanatha
The Hazard Information Hub (HIH), operated by Sarvodaya as part of the Last-Mile Hazard Information Dissemination Project (HazInfo) to disseminate Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) risk information to the villages in Sri Lanka, monitored the recent tsunami drills conducted in the Pacific by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in the USA. The HazInfo project initiated by LIRNEasia, is a multipartner initiative aimed at tackling the “last-mile” challenges in developing an all-hazards approach to disaster management and mitigation.
The first region-wide test of the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific, called Exercise Pacific Wave ’06, was carried out on May 16 and 17. The simulation was divided into two stages, beginning with a mock tsunami bulletin from PTWC on May 16. In the second stage, conducted on the following day, government officials disseminated messages in each country to local emergency management and response authorities, simulating what would happen in a real situation.
Although the exercises are targeted for countries in and around the Pacific Ocean the Sarvodaya operated Hazard Information Hub also monitored the test alerts from PTWC. At the same time HIH rehearsed 3 aspects of the CAP alert dissemination process:
- HIH observed how well the test alerts were disseminated by PTWC;
- the two person CAP authentication and approval signatory procedure was tested, which is key to maintaining an audit trail of the alerts disseminated from HIH;
- the language translation component, vital to effectively conveying the CAP message to the last-mile was also evaluated.
These initial HIH exercises will measure the expertise and the timing that is required to operationalize CAP in Sri Lanka. The Department of Meteorology – Sri Lanka, authority entrusted by the government of Sri Lanka to disseminate Tsunami hazard warnings, is also observing the PTWC “Wave 06” exercises.
Although the exercise were targeted for the Countries in and around the Pacific Ocean the Sarvodaya operated Hazard Information Hub also monitored the test alerts from PTWC. This would be the first such drill for the HIH since it began setting up in March 2005.
Registering to receive bulletins is as simple as supplying an email address to the International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) through the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) web interface. The PTWC web page: “Subscribe to bulletins” , also provides a quick link to ITIC web page for anyone who wants to subscribe to receive PTWC tsunami bulletins.
Exercise Pacific Wave 2006 email bulletins were delivered to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: “[Tsunami Warning – IOC] Pacific Wave 06 Exercise – Scenario 1 – Message 1 of 9”.The first 3 were Regional Warning and Watch (RWW); second 5 were Pacific Wide Warning (PWW), and the last one was a Final Pacific Wide Warning (FPW) message. Similarly Scenario 2 corresponding dummy bulletins were received in following order: 2 x RWW, 2 x PWW, and 1 x FPW. There were a total of 15 messages received 9 in scenario 1 and 6 in scenario 2.
Relative to the message sequence, there were some inconsistencies in the order the email were actually received. For example, the received time indicates that the Pacific Wave 06 exercise – scenario 1 – Message 2 was received prior to Scenario 1 – Message 1. The reader may observe several other occasions where the message receive time and the message sequence number do not tally. It is possible to come up with several theories to explain the technicalities of this phenomena of the system.
HIH also compared the delay between receiving the email and the time the bulletin was issued. HIH used UTC + 530 as the Sri Lankan time to calculate the time difference. Minimum time was 39 minutes and maximum time was 1 hour and 32 minutes with a median of 46 minutes for the difference between the time received by HIH and the time disseminated by PTWC. The assumptions were that PTWC disseminated the email at the time as it is indicated in the bulletins and not anytime earlier or later. The reader may compare the time stamps in Table1 above versus the Timeline in the exercise manual. In the case of an Indian Ocean Tsunami, HIH cannot afford a 46 minutes delay between the time of the incident and time of receiving the email. HIH needs to be able to disseminate an alert to the Sarvodaya villages giving enough time for the last-mile to respond.
As an alternative, HIH also subscribes to the West Coast-Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WCTWC ) RSS feeds. The “tsunami information map” of the web-product, accessible through the RSS feed, is a very affective page in providing the audience a quick understanding of the epicenter and the level of the danger (i.e. shows the vulnerable areas).
HIH was particularly interested in interpreting the CAP message (i.e. WCTWC CAP Product) also directed to by the WCTWC RSS feed. The first problem encountered was that the message could not be read through the XML style-sheet developed in-house. This is because the WCTWC generated CAP message Universal Resource Name (URN ) was based on CAP version 1.0 and not the newest version CAP 1.1. Therefore both the XML data file and the XSL style-sheet had to be manually adjusted before reading the CAP message through the HIH GUI. The OASIS CAP V 1.1 structure defines four elements – Alert, Info, Resource, and Area. The CAP message generated for the PTWC exercise accompanied only the Alert and Info elements of the CAP message. All the required fields were populated.
The primary objective of the HazInfo Project is to evaluate the suitability of various ICTs as the basis of a last mile hazard warning system in Sri Lanka. The focus of this exercise was on the Information aspect of the acronym ICT. Mainly, testing the risk information receiving and interpretation processes of the Last Mile Hazard Waning System in Sri Lanka.
However, there are many lessons HIH learned from this exercise. Moreover, it helped HIH identify the hidden weaknesses of the current system. Now HIH is better prepared for the next time. Conclusion is that the HIH efficiencies and preparedness can only be increased through rehearsals like this!