Cell Broadcasting for Early Disaster Warning in Maldives: Report released today

Posted on July 15, 2009  /  5 Comments

Maldives, a country of 1,192 islands and 290,000 citizens, is highly dependent on its natural resources. Along with tourism, which provides more than 30 percent of the country’s income, fisheries and agriculture are essential to livelihoods on the country’s 199 inhabited islands.

The December 2004 tsunami affected many of its islands and wrought considerable devastation to its infrastructure, particularly telecom. Not only did it destroy shelters, but it affected five major nodes, disrupted service to 13 atolls (163 islands), destroyed power systems and batteries, and damaged radio equipment.

Can early warning help save lives? The need for early warning has become greater since the tsunami and the growing threat of the atoll nation receding under a rapidly increasing sea level. These claims are further reinforced by a study conducted by RMSI for UNDP Maldives that “It is estimated that Male will be inundated by 15 per cent by 2025 and 50 per cent by 2100 due to climate change and consequent sea level rise”

“Mobile Cell Broadcasting for Commercial Use and Public Warning in the Maldives”, a report done by LIRNEasia researcher Natasha Udu-gama on the based on her research will be released today to Maldivian policy makers. The report focuses not only on Public Warning but how to make Cell Broadcasting commercially viable. A first at international level this report will be work as a guide for any developing country.

Complete report can be downloaded from here. The PPT presentation made to Maldivian policymakers can be downloaded here.


  1. The report was officially released at a meeting convened by the Communications Authority of the Maldives in Male today. It was attended by key officials from government (e.g., Disaster Management Center, National Defense) and from both operators. There was media interest as well, with the story being carried in the 1400 hrs national news and possibly also on the prime time 2000 hrs news bulletin on TVM, the government channel.

    CAM indicated that they intended to initiate a pilot project based on which they would move to mandated operation of cell broadcasting.

  2. Not exactly “Cell Broadcasting” but researchers from Tel Aviv University say that they can use mobile phone towers to predict the intensity of weather derived flooding, before it arrives. They said that such a technique could have acted as an early-warning for New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit the US city.

    Their model, protected by a patent application which analyses cell phone signals, adds an essential and critical component to weather forecasting, never before available.

    “By monitoring the specific and fluctuating atmospheric moisture around cell phone towers throughout America, we can cheaply, effectively, and reliably provide a more accurate ‘critical moisture distribution’ level for fine-tuning model predictions of big floods,” says Prof. Pinhas Alpert, a geophysicist and head of the Porter School for Environmental Education at Tel Aviv University.

    Prof. Alpert and his co-researcher Prof. Hagit Messer Yaron proposed this new methodology for monitoring surface moisture last year, and with the help of a Tel Aviv University doctoral student Noam David, proved that the methodology works.

    How does it work? You know how the cell phone signal gets fuzzy when it is raining outside. Based on the fact that cell phone towers emit radio waves that are attenuated by moisture in the air — a factor that can be correlated to flood levels — the researchers have found a way to measure the attenuations and accurately estimate of the size of an impending flood before it strikes.

    This was demonstrated on two case-studies of flood in the Judean Desert in Israel where cell phone towers, and flash floods, are abundant. Using real data measurements collected from cell phone towers, the researchers demonstrated how microwave links used in a cellular network showed a convincing correlation to surface station humidity measurements.

    A crucial variable in constructing atmospheric models, this data provided by cell phone towers is the missing link of information weather forecasters need to accurately forecast floods.

    They say hindsight is 20/20, but with flood warnings happening on a regular basis in United States especially in the spring, it’s still incredibly hard for meteorologists – and people – to gauge the seriousness of flood warnings.

    With hundreds of thousands of cell phone towers already in place – even in remote locations in the U.S, – this Tel Aviv University invention can be adopted quickly, since no existing infrastructure needs to be put in place. And cell phone operators are already collecting the data anyway, as Americans ramp up their minutes of call time every month.

    Download the study: http://www.tau.ac.il/~pinhas/papers/2009/David_et_al_ACP_2009.pdf

  3. Lanka Business Online has covered the story: http://www.lbo.lk/fullstory.php?nid=2024102493

  4. Early alerts lashing automatically in mobile screens

    Mobile phone users in the cyclone affected and flood affected district (at the moment 2 district) of Bangladesh will receive advance disaster warnings over the next six months under a pilot project that could be expanded countrywide.

    Grameenphone and TeleTalk subscribers in the two districts will see the alerts flashing automatically on their mobile screens as advance warning. A pilot project deal was signed between the Disaster Management Bureau and the two mobile phone operators in early June, 09.

    The Comprehensive Disaster Management Program will ultimately take up the project for expansion.

    Introducing the disaster alert through mobile would be a milestone in thrash disaster in Bangladesh.

    This is a private and public relationship to helping disadvantaged communities living in remote areas, who are most helpless to disasters.

  5. CEGIS has developed sms based local level flood warning system and it has been successfully piloted at Daulatpur Upazila of Manikganj District and Nagarpur Upazila of Tangail District. Further, CEGIS has also developed sms based Bird Flue (Avian Influenza) monitoring system to reduce the disaster risk in poultry farms for DLS/FAO.
    Government and Donor agency can be involved CEGIS in this arena to efficient disaster risk reduction system.