Early Warning Archives — Page 2 of 3

Symbols in Alerting

Posted on May 14, 2013  /  0 Comments

I had a dream once – I was walking along a river in China and then an audible alarm emitting from my mobile phone got my attention. When I looked at the screen, surprisingly, a symbol with a red border showing rising water and a human figure running uphill towards shelter, was displaying. Later I realized, being illiterate in Mandarin, a text message would have done me no good. However, the symbol made perfect sense. It was an immediate threat of a sudden-onset flash flood (possibly caused by a damn burst).
What we noticed in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was the randomness of the damage. Houses that were right next to each other were affected differently: one destroyed another untouched. This was supposed to be caused by the complex interaction of the wave and the topography of the coast. In the case of the meteor hit that affected the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, the damage has also been random according to reports. Sometimes with glass containers within a home damaged while the windows were not.
The gist of the NYT report is that some residents of coastal Oregon are unhappy about the discontinuance of tsunami warning sirens. But in these matters what one has to look at is the science. Supporters of the county’s decision, including some coastal hazard experts, say that the sirens, comforting as they may sound in their monthly tests, are so vague in their wailing message — declaring only a tsunami in approach, with no indication of size or timing — that they may be, in a strange way, dangerous to public safety. The last time the sirens wailed, after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, for example, which triggered tsunami alerts around much of the Pacific Rim, emergency managers here expected the tsunami hitting this part of Oregon to be small, which it was. The only evacuations they ordered were for residents living within a half mile of the shoreline.
With slow-moving Sandy leaving New York State, they are counting the dead. It appears that 22 people died. Each death is a tragedy that the disaster managers would have loved to avoid. But can you imagine what the toll would have been if not for extensive planning and early warning? The word “cell broadcasting” is not used in the piece from the Atlantic that I am quoting below, but it is quite clear that she is talking about cell broadcasting, a topic we have researched and written about extensively.
Right now disaster awareness is high. A cyclone was heading toward Sri Lanka’s Northeast Coast but has apparently veered off toward the Indian East Coast. Flooding has started in different parts of the country, trees are falling, transport has been affected. Of course, people are very aware of Hurricane Sandy and the US East Coast because of the power of international media. I found myself also monitoring Hawai’i a few days ago, because they were expecting a tsunami there (it came, but at insignificant wave heights).
I was pleased to read that detection devices for nuclear hazards are to be set up in Sri Lanka, even if it was from a foreign publication. I have been one of the few to point out that Sri Lanka lives in the shadow of nuclear reactors, while getting none of the benefits. This announcement indicates that someone in authority is paying attention. Following the request of AEA, International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) decided to help Sri Lanka set up seven early warning detectors and provide equipment worth 72,000 Euros, said Warnakulasuriya. “With nuclear leakage at Fukushima in Japan last year the region felt the need for nuclear disaster warning systems.
Senior Research Fellow Nuwan Waidyanatha recently completed an action research project on how local-language voice communication can be used in early warning and other disaster management tasks. A 10 mt video has just been released.
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.
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.

Twitter as crowdsourced early warning

Posted on September 25, 2011  /  3 Comments

The idea of using information supplied by people for early warning is extremely attractive. So much so that one politically-correct person wanted us to rename our project from “last mile” to “first mile.” We didn’t because in our model it was the last mile, the end of the warning chain, and we have little tolerance for people who think the world will change simply because we rename it. But that does not stop us from thinking about the possibilities of detecting hazards through crowdsourcing. Seems quite appropriate for “unnatural” hazards of criminality as described in this report: “Avoid Plaza Las Américas,” several people wrote, giving the location.
The MIT Technology Review is taken seriously by many people, especially those who see technology as part of the policy solution mix. When it more or less endorses cell broadcasting as an effective public warning technology, citing our work to boot, we cannot but be pleased. The technology is also being tested in a very different part of the world in which disaster may strike with very little warning: Israel. EViglio is working on an SMS-CB system that will warn residents of incoming rockets within seconds after they have been fired. Testing of the system will begin in June 2011.
We are saddened by the multiple tragedies of the earthquake, dam break, nuclear station problem, local tsunami and teletsunami. We offer our condolences to the victims and our admiration and encouragement to the brave men and women doing the hard work of providing succor to the survivors. More concretely, we are working on a media note summarizing lessons from our post 2004 tsunami research, which was on risk reduction, not on relief and recovery. Here below is a excerpt from the note. The full text is Pacific tsunami revised.

Preparedness saves lives

Posted on March 2, 2010  /  0 Comments

What we want to do next in our disaster work is to train the inhabitants of coastal villages and the staff of coastal hotels to develop and rehearse annually risk reduction plans. The Chile experience shows the value. Still, Chile’s earthquake preparedness clearly saved lives. Laura Torres, 62, and her husband, Víctor Campos, 66, live in Constitución, a city flanked by the ocean and a river. When they quake struck, the earth shook so violently they could not stand.