Tag Archives: Early Warning System

Text Messages for Emergency and Disaster Management

The recent “severe” winter weather in New Orleans got me thinking about the use of ICTs for disaster prevention and warning. I was alerted that campus would be closed by text message sent by the Tulane Emergency Alert system and was also told about various road closures (such as the I-10 shut down) via text message. This method seemed to be the simplest and smartest way to communicate vital information with a large population. Could this same system be expanded to communicate pertinent information in disaster situations?

The answer appears to be yes it can. The FCC in response to the 2006 Warning Alert and Response Network Act has been working with wireless carriers to establish a system of nationwide alerts which could spread information in case of a disaster to all mobile phones in the United States.  The FCC describes the plan as consisting of three levels or phases. “The first would be a national alert from the president, likely involving a terrorist attack or natural disaster. The second would involve “imminent threats,” which could include natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes or even university shootings. The third would be reserved for child abduction emergencies, or so-called Amber Alerts.

Receiving these messages could also be free from carrier charges and be delivered by a unique audio signature or “vibration cadence.”

In the developing world the same systems are under construction. Before the 2007 tsunami in Sri Lanka text messages were use to alert people to evacuate even before official television and radio broadcasts were interrupted with the alert. There was no official text message warning system in place but those that lived on the coast received text messages from friends hours before the official warning were released which told them to leave.

The government attempted to send out emergency phone calls but the volume of traffic jammed the system and made phone calls impossible. In the future the  “National Telecommunications Authority has now asked subscribers to stick to text messaging during national emergencies.”

Once an official text message alert system is in place the government could use it not only to warn people of impending disasters but also spread information about relief efforts. The system could allow residents to know about refugee camps, food drops, and alert people when it is safe to return home.

Currently many opt-in system exist for spreading information about tsunami and hurricane alerts but many governments are working on systems that will spread these types of alerts to everyone without the need to sign up independently.






I think one of the most important and critical applications of ICT is for disaster management and mitigation.  With the proper infrastructure, monitoring, and implementation, ICT for Disasters can save countless lives and speed up the rebuilding and recovering process.  As a case study, I am going to use our location – New Orleans, Louisiana – where we face the very real threat of hurricanes.

One of the most important steps anyone can take to mitigate the effects of disasters is preparation and preparedness.  Check out Get A Game Plan from the Louisiana Governor’s office – it has plans and essential info to get you prepared for the next storm.  You can also download the app on your iPhone!  Public campaigns through TV ads, Internet, Texts, etc can deliver helpful information and reminders.

Early warning systems (EWS) are key in making sure that people know when disasters are coming and what precautions to take.  EWS can be traditional (alarms, radio, TV, telephone) or modern (SMS, Internet, Apps).  With NOLA Ready, New Orleans residents can sign up to receive notifications via text, email, or phone call for evacuation information, weather advisories, infrastructure issues (water advisories, power outages), and traffic.  Have an iPhone?  With the WDSU Hurricane Central App, you can track tropical storms and hurricanes with satellite maps, up-to-date notifications, preparation checklists, and planning maps.

During a disaster, apps on your phone and other ICT options can keep you informed and safe.  They can also help connect you to loved ones.  Did you know?  During Hurricane Katrina, phone service was limited or unavailable, but SMS often still worked!  This is because SMS works on a different band, and can be sent and received even when service is down or congested.  Another plus is that you can text multiple people at once, which will save you battery power.

In the aftermath of disasters, online databases (check out Sahana) can help with missing persons and connecting people to NGOs and resources.  Satellite images can help identity damage and find those in need of help.

-Many of these devices are not used during the night hours and often powered off, which reduces effectiveness
-ICT usually requires a power source, which can be cut off during an emergency!  Back up batteries or generators are suggested.
-Not everyone has access to ICT!
-There must be coordination between governments, NGOs, and the public
-There must be proper and adequate infrastructure, that is somewhat standardized compatible with these technologies
-People have to use it!  Having ICTs in place does no good if people do not take advantage!

Do you know of any tools and tips that I missed?

Technology & the Japan Tohoku Quake & Tsunami

Interesting BBC video on the various kinds of technology being used after the massive quake and tsunami (and subsequent nuclear disaster) in March of this year. Includes info on early warning system, Mixi social media site, GPS in Honda vehicles for mapping roadways, mapping applications, and Google person finder.

Source: BBC News Video (18 March 2011)

Famine Early Warning System

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSnet) is a network that monitors several different factors in order to predict food insecurities that may result in a famine so that adequate resources can be moved into the region in a timely fashion.

Unlike most disasters which occur rapidly, famines take years to develop. FEWSnet monitors factors such as food prices, weather, and crop yield to predict whether the area will have a secure supply of food resources to feed their population.

Just as famines take time to develop, resources to combat the disaster take time to produce as well. Food must be located and purchased from an area that has an excess of supplies for their own populations, transported to the afftected area, and then fairly distributed evenly among the effected population. If the dire food needs have not been recognized until the problem actually begins, it is going to take a much longer time to attain the resources necessary to releive the area. FEWSnet aims to see the problem and mitigate the damage before it starts.