Preparedness phase: early warning01.09.2020
Improvements to preparedness, particularly through early warning schemes, save lives. However, they should come from trusted sources, such as the national entity for monitoring and early warning. For hydrological and meteorological events, the national meteorological organization is in charge of issuing those alerts. For instance:
- In 2015, Tropical Cyclone Pam caused 24 deaths in Vanuatu; it also caused base station towers to collapse, so satellite phones and VHF radio had to be used for communication during the emergency response. In 2017, Tropical Cyclone Donna resulted in no deaths; before it arrived, there had been warnings by radio broadcasts and SMS messages (and new ways of developing and implementing preparedness activities had been introduced) (Sen 2019).
- In 2012, during a magnitude 8.5 earthquake offshore from Sumatra, Indonesia, a tsunami warning was issued in several countries. Over 75 per cent of the population of Banda Aceh, where most of the deaths in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami occurred, started to evacuate soon after receiving a warning. No tsunami happened, and no deaths were registered, but the evacuation was greatly slowed by traffic jams. Challenges remain in getting dense populations to safety quickly (UNISDR 2013).
- The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused the deaths of 227 000 people, amounting to over 20 per cent of the people in the inundated area. The 2011 Tōhoku tsunami was also overwhelming: it severely tested the advanced warning systems, sea walls, and evacuation plans of Japan. It caused 18 000 deaths, but these amounted to only 4 per cent of the people in the inundated area (UNISDR 2013).
Studies of how people received information after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami showed that in disaster-prone areas information should be issued using varied media, both auditory and visual. Warnings can come from sirens, loudspeakers, digital signs, television broadcasts, radio broadcasts, cell broadcasts, location-based phone calls, and SMS messages and messages to smartphone apps. A system in Sri Lanka dependent on mobile phones and special-purpose alarms that provides for several of these media, with various attendant problems, is described by Wickramsinghe (2011).
The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is a well-established mechanism for ensuring that warnings transmitted by different media are substantially similar (WMO 2012). The warnings are composed by an official authority and passed to issuers of the warning in the CAP format. The warning issuers then simply run programs to convert the warnings to the formats used by their media (WMO 2013). The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) has developed Public Warning Design Guidelines for FIA Messaging (FIA 2015). This is a useful starting point when considering formats of warnings in other contexts besides Internet use.
In the United States, for example, the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system is a tool for authorized federal, state, and local government entities to geographically target presidential, imminent threat, or AMBER Alerts (to search for missing children), to the mobile devices of the users of the mobile providers participating in the WEA system. Sending alerts in the WEA system begins when an authorized government entity sends a WEA alert message using CAP to the alert aggregator, operated by the Federal Management Agency Emergency (FEMA), through a secure Internet-based interface. In this interface, the alert message is authenticated, validated, and subsequently delivered to the FEMA Alerts Gateway. At the FEMA Alerts Gateway, the alert message is converted to a Commercial Mobile Alert, to make it readable by mobile devices that support the WEA system. The alert message is then broadcasted via a secure Internet-based interface to the alerting gateway of the participating mobile providers for distribution to mobile customers via mobile transmission (FCC 2019). In the United States, these types of emergency alerts using CAP can also be distributed to radio and television stations and cable television channels, among other media, who can then retransmit such information to local communities across the country.
Traditional techniques for warning people, such as showing pictures, raising flags, visiting houses, blowing horns, shouting, banging, and whistling are important, too, especially among the poor and older people (IFRC 2012). With all techniques, whether electronic or traditional, women need to be involved properly; for instance, in Bhutan women have been said to prefer the use of mobile phones to sirens for early warning, because they can then be reached in their houses as well as in the fields (ICIMOD 2016).
Early warning systems might well be integrated into wider schemes for government-to-citizen (G2C) communications. Nonetheless, local knowledge remains useful, especially if official schemes are not universally available or fully maintained. For instance, in one project in Nepal, villagers have been encouraged to use mobile phones to warn others downstream about probable floods (Giri and Malakar 2011). Difficulties arise if local knowledge is discredited, for example, when a family moves possessions because of a warning about floods that then proves to be unjustified.
The ICT regulator should make regulatory provision for using ICT services and platforms for warning the public. For instance:
- The use of standardized messages for different providers of warnings should be encouraged, especially when alerts distributed by multiple methods refer to the same hazard. These alerts should use the same thresholds or alert levels and give the same recommendations and type of information to the population.
- All regulated media should carry early warnings that attain certain levels of severity and urgency.
- Users that opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial calls and messages should not thereby be opting out of receiving all free official early warnings.
- Providers of application-to-person (A2P) messages should be allowed to issue free official early warnings to users that have opted in to receiving them. These providers could include, for example, social media corporations, organizations using SMS messages to issue passwords or subscription content, and NGOs providing hazard warning apps like that from the Global Disaster Preparedness Center.
- SMS messages and cell broadcasts for commercial purposes should abide by the same advertising standards as television broadcasts and radio broadcasts. An example from Bhutan indicates what the resulting regulation might be like (BICMA 2019).
- Information phone lines that users might call to receive early warnings should be equipped to handle the expected volume of traffic.
BICMA (Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority). 2019. Code of Practice for Short Messaging Service-Cell Broadcast (SMS-CB) Services. http://www.bicma.gov.bt/bicmanew/data/publications/rules-regulations-guidelines/Code_of_Practice_for_SMS_CB_Service_2019.pdf.
Christian, E., 2012. “Introducing the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).” https://etrp.wmo.int/ pluginfile.php/16462/mod_resource/content/0/CAP-101-Notes.pdf.
FIA (Federation for Internet Alerts). 2015. Public Warning Design Guidelines for FIA Messaging. https://www.internetalerts.org/fia_documents/warning-design-guidelines_012015.pdf.
FCC (Federal Communications Commission). 2019. Report: October 3, 2018 Nationwide WEA and EAS Test. Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Washington, DC: FCC. https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-356902A1.pdf.
Giri, S., and Y. Malakar. 2011. Using Mobile Phones to Reduce the Adversities of Climate Change in Rural Nepal. Centre for Development Informatics (CDI), University of Manchester. http://www.niccd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/NICCD_Disasters_Case_Study_MobileNepal.pdf.
ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development). 2016. Flood Early Warning Systems in Bhutan: A Gendered Perspective. ICOMOD 2016/13. https://lib.icimod.org/api/files/9df3e02d-7c21-414e-b6f6-c0c2bb47cc4b/icimodEWS-WP01613.pdf.
IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). 2012. Community Early Warning Systems: Guiding Principles. Geneva: IFRC. https://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/103323/1227800-IFRC-CEWS-Guiding-Principles-EN.pdf.
Sen, R. 2019. “Emergency Telecommunications in the Pacific: Regulation as an Instrument for Disaster Preparedness.” Emergency Telecommunications Cluster Blog Post, August 7, 2019. https://www.etcluster.org/blog/emergency-telecommunications-pacific-regulation-instrument-disaster-preparedness.
Southgate R.J., C. Roth, J. Schneider, P. Shi, T. Onishi, D. Wenger, W. Amman, I. Ogallo, J. Beddington, and V. Murray. 2013. Using Science for Disaster Risk Reduction. UNISDR Scientific and Technical Advisory Group Report. Geneva: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. https://www.preventionweb.net/files/32609_stagreport2013assembled.pdf
Wickramsinghe, K. 2011. Role of ICTs in Early Warning of ClimateRelated Disasters: A Sri Lankan Case Study. Centre for Development Informatics (CDI), University of Manchester. http://www.niccd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/NICCD_Disasters_Case_Study_EarlyWarning.pdf.
WMO (World Meteorological Organization). 2013. Guidelines for Implementation of Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)-Enabled Emergency Alerting. Geneva: WMO. https://library.wmo.int/doc_num.php?explnum_id=3431.Last updated on: 19.01.2022