Disasters — Page 10 of 23


Interview with Freedom Fone

Posted on March 19, 2012  /  0 Comments

“From a global perspective, in our parts of the world people are vocal. We do business with voice. We don’t write big memos, we don’t write big e-mails, you just pick up the phone and you make a call, you talk to the person and you do your business. From that perspective Freedom Fone positions itself naturally in a very good way.” – on YOUTUBE
Everyone is looking for the killer app that can serve the non-digizen (non digital citizens). There is a lot of hype about smart phones but the practical field level thinkers have realized voice is the better solution. CGNet Swara a citizen journalism project, TCS Innovation Lab’s work on the use of speech for querying railway information1, IITM-RTBI’s Agriculture Information exchange, are a few of many Interactive Voice Response (IVR) enabled solutions that are taking shape in the region. Key reasons for the innovations surrounding IVR are to overcome the problems with key pad entry (pressing W thrice for Y) and traditional English based applications. It doesn’t get easier than pressing a few digits to dial a number and speak your mind or listen to a message.
Our findings from the recently concluded Interactive Voice-enabled alerting and situational reporting pilot revealed that Speech-To-Text and Text-To-Speech were impossible to apply with audio over low quality transmission networks (listen to this audio to get a sense how bad it can be). One could sample at much higher frequencies then that produces an extremely large mega byte file which may take hours to multi-cast; hence, not recommended for critical life-saving communications. Our conclusions drawn were mainly on the situational reporting functions. The U.S.
Some countries chafe at the fact that their largest investor, employer and/or tax payer is foreign. In many developing countries, this is a mobile operator who came in under the radar to a small and unimportant sector and by growing rapidly became the largest entity before the nationalists could stop them. Such was the case with Digicel in Haiti. But according to a report, it looks like win-win for the company and the country and for the rest of us too, because Digicel seems to be pioneering a new model for managing disaster recovery. Digicel, on the other hand, is the country’s largest employer and taxpayer.
We complain every time early warning is not given or false warnings/evacuation orders are issued. But praise must be given when right action is taken and lives are saved. Indian authorities are to be praised. Witnesses in Chennai and Pondicherry said trees had been toppled, there had been power outages throughout the night and disruption to phone and internet services in some areas. Hundreds of people from fishing communities along north Tamil Nadu’s coast, and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state, have moved to schools set up as relief centres until the weather system passes.
Smith Dharmasaroja is a hero of mine. Disagreeing with a hero does not come easy. But he is wrong to give equal or greater weight to national tsunami detection and monitoring systems than to communication of last-mile warning. It may be that the fault lies in the reporter in ordering the comments, but it does appear that Mr Smith believes that a national tsunami detection and monitoring system is most important to Thailand. It is not.
The government itself has found the early warning actions of the designated national authorities deficient and is talking of setting up workaround mechanisms. Nothing really new, other than sadness that seven years and large commitments of resources have not taken us much farther than we were back in 2004. What is even more worrisome is the lack of knowledge among all the parties about the available modes of communicating early warnings. No mention of cell broadcasting that is capable of delivering location-specific tailored information to all mobile handsets within the range of a base transceiver station. The journalist has done a good job except for repeating misinformation about poor communication infrastructure and access in rural areas.
Based on theory and analysis, we have strongly advocated that early warning should be issued by government. I have even gone so far as to suggest that those who issue false warnings should be prosecuted. Thus, it comes as shock to read in the Sunday Times that the government itself is planning to bypass the national early warning center, issuing international weather alerts directly to fishing boats capable of receiving them. But the Minister’s reaction is fully understandable. People died needlessly, because the agency that is mandated to warn our people of hazards that may harm them willfully neglected to do so.
The P.800 Difficult Percentage (or Difficulty Score) is an International Telecommunications Union Standardization sector recommended method for testing transmission quality in one’s own laboratory. We adopted this method in our feasibility study to enable Freedom Fone for emergency data exchange. The project studied the design challenges for exchanging the Freedom Fone interactive voice data with the Sahana Disaster Management System. This entailed taking situational reports supplied by Sarvodaya Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members in audible (or speech) forms and transforming them to text.

Dam safety rises on Indian policy agenda

Posted on November 25, 2011  /  0 Comments

The Mullaperiyar Dam has been considered unsafe for many years. Nothing much has been done about it, partly because Tamilnadu and Kerala cannot agree on the remedial measures. Now Kerala is going hard, possibly energized by a feature film called Dam 999. Mr Joseph, quoted below, is a Minister: Mr. Joseph told reporters here on Friday that the Centre should intervene immediately to save the life of 30 lakh people who lived under the threat of a dam breach.
The usefulness and ease-of-use of interactive voice, with Freedom Fone, for Sarvodaya Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members to supply incident information was blogged two weeks back. Now the question is “how is all that information put to use in responding to those incidents?”. In here we tell parts of that story. CERT members call one of the four telephone numbers to access Freedom Fone; then press the “reporting” menu item number on their phone keypad to record a “field observation report”.
It is very important to keep the conversation going in a field like disaster risk reduction. The Sri Lanka Disaster Management Center, in collaboration with UNDP, is organizing the Third National Symposium on Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation on 24th and 25th November 2011. The presentation from LIRNEasia is here.
We conducted controlled-exercises, with Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya (Sarvodaya) Hazard Information Hub (HIH) Operators and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members. The HIH data center is in Moratuwa. The study using interactive voice, field tested the technology in  Colombo, Matara, Nuwara-eliya, and Ratnapura Districts. Figure to the left shows an average ease-of-use of 3.95 and usefulness of 4.
Done for Florida’s electricity utilities, but applicable to other infrastructure as well. A short summary by Mark Jamison, but I assume a longer report exists. In the aftermath of the 2004-2005 hurricane season, when eight named storms caused a total of $15.5 million in customer losses from power outages, Florida embarked on a comprehensive reform preparing electric utilities for hurricanes. This effort included coordinated research through PURC on electric infrastructure and storm damage.

No walls can stop tsunamis

Posted on November 3, 2011  /  1 Comments

I recall a meeting within weeks of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, convened by the current President (then Prime Minister), to seek the views of intellectuals about rebuilding. The most memorable suggestion came from the late Arisen Ahubudu, who began with a reference to Madagascar once being part of Lanka and ended with a proposal to build a wall around the island, adhering to ancient Sri Lankan engineering norms. Luckily, it was not acted upon. In contrast, some bureaucrat in Japan accepted a harebrained proposal to build a wall to stop tsunamis. That collapsed in the tsunami that came with the Great Tohoku Earthquake.
It used to be that we had the majority of deaths and the developed economies had the majority of economic damage from disasters. But according to the authoritative CRED-CRUNCH newsletter, Asia seems to absorbing the most of all forms of damage, including economic losses. Whereas 42% of disasters [in the first half of 2011] happened in Asia, 90% of total deaths and 73% of total people affected were from this continent. Moreover, Asia accounted for 83% of total economic damages brought by natural disasters.