In 2005 January I asked my friend, Pete Anderson, to take a risk and come to Sri Lanka to participate in the expert forum we had convened on the 26th of January to develop policy recommendations for effective early warning. At that moment I did not have a budget line to pay out of, but I said I’ll find the money to reimburse him, and I did.
That first visit is described in AQ, the Simon Fraser University alumni magazine, along with some photos we took on the trip down the coast with Asantha Sirimanne, one of the journalists who first reported the tragedy:
Within days of the 2004 catastrophic tsunami that struck South Asia, killing more than 250,000 people, Anderson travelled to Sri Lanka and paced the broken shorelines in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. There he formed ideas on how to help local communities devise and implement their own emergency communications strategies, eventually collaborating with local organizations to develop the Last Mile Hazard Information Dissemination Project, designed to improve the capabilities of the country when disaster strikes.
The pilot project generated a capacity-building experience that is leading to community communications improvements. “It’s not just about the technology; there has to be a social process in place,” says Anderson, who will return in June for a conference commemorating the disaster’s 10-year anniversary.
“I’ve been lucky over the years. I’ve always been accepted by people wherever I go, and I’ve tried to work alongside them as a colleague, not as the expert,” he adds. “Respecting the capabilities of others helps lead to good, sustainable solutions.”
As part of his tsunami-relief focus, Anderson is working with provincial and regional emergency officials to help assess the needs of those in remote B.C. While B.C.’s tsunami-warning emergency plan has improved considerably in recent years, Anderson will use new funding from the Canadian Safety and Security Program to continue developing ways to improve these systems, including testing new technologies.
Along B.C.’s north and central coast, where tsunami “watches and warnings” are occasionally issued as a result of strong Pacific earthquakes, he is testing the efficacy of satellite and other technologies for regions with limited cell phone and Internet service. Further north, he and his colleague, Stephen Braham, are developing new rapid-deployable communications systems for use across northern Canada.
LIRNEasia, and the funder of our disaster risk reduction research, IDRC of Canada, get no mention in the article. But what is more important is the fact that the learnings from our HazInfo Project are being applied within Canada. That has been always something we have striven for.
We salute Pete Anderson both for his sustained dedication to learn from experience irrespective of location and for the well deserved Order of British Columbia.