I was asked by a journalist from the Express Group to comment on the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Center’s use or non-use of available technological solutions, specifically some kind of VSAT facility in Padukka. I said I was not in a position to comment on this, but said I would comment their good use of DEWN and their inexplicable non-use of Sahana. Both DEWN and Sahana were technological solutions developed within Sri Lanka by Sri Lankans in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. DEWN is a CAP-compliant robust method for communicating with first responders. It was handed over to the DMC in 2009 and has been well used since.
It was happenstance that New York Times commentator and US Academic of Turkish origin Zeynep Tufekci was in Turkey when the coup unfolded. Her reflections on the role played by the Internet and social media in defeating the coup are of great interest. But what caught my eye was a simple action mobile operators can take in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, natural or otherwise: When I was stuck at the airport in this city in southern Turkey, on Friday night, I had many things to worry about. A coup attempt had just begun and the country was in turmoil. My plane to Istanbul had almost flown into the worst of the fighting, but luckily we were prevented from taking off at the last minute when the airspace was closed.
We have been kicking around the idea of giving insurance a greater role in disaster risk reduction and response since 2005. Just a few months back I raised the issue at a workshop at UN ESCAP. In an interview with a Sinhala newspaper last week, I said it was a pity we were not anchoring compensation for flood damage on insurance principles and just giving out money. But here is good news. Too often, we criticize governments for sins of omission and commission.
Our disaster-relief partner Sarvodaya organized a small event at the community center at Pahala Bomiriya to hand over the remainder of the relief supplies to affected families. I was invited to say a few words. I talked about the need to build more resilient communities so that we could respond to hazards better in the future. The science of being able to forewarn people of floods exists. What we need to do is to implement the available solutions.
When the biggest disaster since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit close to home, we responded in our customary fashion. We asked for donations to be matched by LIRNEasia and we thought about how we could contribute through knowledge. We remitted the first tranche of cash to our partner, Sarvodaya on 19th May, just as the relief effort was getting started. There is value to donations in kind, but the flexibility of cash is essential. And the first writing based on the thinking was published on the 23rd.
Nalaka Gunawardene has published a piece in SciDev on the lessons from the floods/landslides. Nuwan Waidyanatha is in the Maldives at this moment advocating that they switch on cell broadcasting in the networks. In Sri Lanka, it’s on, but not used. The Colombo-based ICT research organisation LIRNEasia has also been promoting the use of cell broadcasting for disaster communications. In this method, mobile networks can be used deliver text messages simultaneously to multiple users in a specified area.
Sahana was developed by volunteer software engineers under the aegis of the Lanka Software Foundation in the months and years after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. It was handed over to an international foundation when I served as Chair of LSF. Nuwan Waidyanatha who cut his teeth on disaster research as part of the Hazinfo project, is now a leading trainer and part of the team guiding development of Sahana. Despite my best efforts to get those involved in the early development of the software interviewed for this story (triggered by one of my tweets), we are the only sources for information on Sahana in this Sunday Times story. There are allegations that the authorities could have utilised locally-available systems that could have helped to better coordinate disaster relief efforts.
The report, published in April 2016, covers a range of issues, but is perhaps unique in its emphasis on the potential of big data. This report highlighted some emerging technologies such as the use of Big Data for DRM purposes. It is one that is still being explored but has so far demonstrated immense potential. However, along with it come significant challenges that have to be overcome in order to truly benefit from real-time use of MNBD. Utilizing new sources of data such as MNBD and even social media for assisting in predicting emerging trends and shocks as well as for building greater resilience is still an emergent field.
As promised, here is the full piece in FT on the lessons of the latest disaster: When citizens pay no heed to alerts, warnings and evacuation orders, the normal reaction is to blame the citizens or ponder the possibilities of forcible means. But what we learned through our research and from reflective practitioners is that people have good reasons not to act on warnings. So if we want to design effective messages, we have to start from the minds of the recipients. We must practice empathy. Evacuation, the primary means of getting people out of harm’s way, is a major disruption of the evacuee’s life.
On May 14th that I retweeted a satellite image of a weather system over Sri Lanka. The tweet said “WEATHER ALERT – Severe rain over #LK will continue for next 24/48hrs. Public cautioned over flash floods & landslides.” The hazard was public knowledge, contrary to some claims now being made. WEATHER ALERT – Severe rain over #LK will continue for next 24/48hrs.
We started working on the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) back in 2005. Nuwan Waidyanatha was running workshops on CAP by mid 2006. We made mobile operators and software firms working with them aware of the value of CAP. Nuwan kept teaching how to use it all over the world. But with Nuwan moving to Kunming and funded research ending, the activity tapered down.
Based on its longstanding relationship with Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest community-based organization, we have already remitted the first tranche of cash support (donations matched 100:50 by LIRNEasia) already used in urgent relief work (bottled water and dry rations) in four priority districts: Colombo, Gampaha, Kegalla and Puttalama. We trust that Sarvodaya is best positioned to identify priority needs and deliver the relief in a reliable manner based on its strong values and years of experience. Sarvodaya has informed us that it is already looking beyond relief, to actions needed to get he affected people in Sarvodaya villages back on their feet. This will require more commitment of funds and energy than what is needed for immediate relief. We will be with Sarvodaya as they build back better.
It was barely a month after LIRNEasia conducted a course on broadband policy and regulation in Nagarkot, that Nepal was affected by the Ghorka Earthquake. Our hearts went out for the people of Nepal who suffered from a series of tremblors, power and communication outages and many difficulties. We managed to convey some support for the immediate relief activities undertaken by our partner, the Internet Society of Nepal. But we concluded that what would be most valuable would be a contribution in the form of an assessment of how the communication system stood up to the earthquake and what lessons could be learned to make networks more resilient. That report, based on field visits and extensive consultations with those who directly experienced the problems, is now public here.
As the world celebrates World Meteorological Day 2016 under the theme “Hotter, drier, wetter. Face the future”, 2011- 2015 is identified as the hottest period on record. Apart from heavy droughts, climate change is currently contributing to the increased risk of heavy rains and flood. Therefore, it is important to protect lives and property through impact based forecasts. (http://www.
The Internet Society’s Asia-Pacific Bureau together with Internet Society Nepal Chapter organised INET Kathmandu from 17-18 March 2016. This event brought together international agencies, rapid response groups and local stakeholders involved in disaster planning, management and relief services. LIRNEasia research study on the “Assessment of Nepal’s Internet and Telecommunication Damage and Losses: Lessons from the 2015 Earthquake” carried jointly by LIRNEasia and Internet Society Nepal Chapter was presented by Nuwan Waidyanatha, Senior Research Fellow of LIRNEasia on the second day of the event.
In the policy world, one does not want to be alone. I have even dressed up new policy ideas as variations on existing ones, in order to get them accepted. When Abu Saeed Khan persuaded me that international backhaul was an important issue in Islamabad in May 2010, he was quite alone. When I made the first presentation on the subject to the expert group at ESCAP in November 2010, LIRNEasia was a lone voice in the wilderness. Abu then took the lead role.