E-environment: Multi-hazard early warning systems and role of ICT

19 Mar 2018 09:00h - 10:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

The session addressed the importance of communication networks and platforms in managing early-warning and alerting, and disseminating early-warning messages and alerts. Moderator Mr Cosmas Zavazava, chief of the PKM department at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), introduced the topic by emphasising the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in managing natural disasters, which still cause the loss of millions of lives and trillions of dollars every year. ICTs help disseminate alerts to enable populations to evacuate on time. In this context, the ITU sets standards to ensure the interoperability of networks and the establishment of a common alerting protocol.

Ms Ruxandra Obreja, chairman of Digital Radio Mondiale, discussed the role of digital radio in emergency warning. There are many advantages to the use of radio: it is ubiquitous, provides quick access, has full-country coverage, is easy to integrate, and is resilient, whereas other communication channels face greater risk of being affected by hazards. When an alarm is triggered by authorities, all running digital receivers pick up these alarm signals and switch to the emergency broadcast, presenting detailed information in both audio and visual forms, in different languages, and targeted to specific areas that are affected by the disaster.

Next, Mr Neal Moodie, representative of the World Meteorological Organization, presented the updated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems Checklist, which consists of four elements, all of which are heavily impacted by ICTs:

  • Disaster risk knowledge

  • Detection, monitoring, analysis and forecasting of hazards and possible consequences

  • Warning dissemination and communication

  • Preparedness and response capabilities

Compared to the previous version, the checklist aims to provide a richer context of information to authorities by focusing on the combination of different hazards, making governments better informed and warnings more targeted.

Daniel Kull, senior Disaster Risk Management specialist at the World Bank Group, explained that the World Bank increasingly invests in ICT tools that contribute to early warning and reducing hydro-meteorological risks. Apart from investments in the ICT infrastructure itself, the World Bank also focuses on investments in institutional capacity and change management to modernise service delivery in disaster contexts. Kull stressed the importance of two-way communication, to better respond to needs and to make use of crowdsourced information. Besides these opportunities, Kull identified a number of challenges, particularly related to policy and management, such as the smooth coordination and information sharing between agencies, and improved cooperation between the public and private sectors. He further emphasised that innovations only need to be implemented in the right context, where their functionality can be ensured.

Highlighting the utility of communication satellites, Ms Yulia Koulikova, senior manager of regulatory and policy affairs at Inmarsat, and representative of the European Satellite Operators Association, provided a number of examples of how satellites are used in disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts. In each of the examples, sensors were used to detect abnormalities – such as deep sea sensors for tsunami alerts or sensors measuring cattle behaviour, to detect cattle disease. The sensor data is then transmitted to satellites, which send the data to platforms and applications. Satellites can be essential when terrestrial ICT infrastructure (such as cell towers) are lacking or damaged.

Mr Jonathan Miquel, product manager M2M solutions & MSS at Marlink, further explained that for the use of satellites in DRR, partnerships are key, considering the many entities that can be involved in DRR. In addition, it is essential to understand the context of the intervention, as technical solutions do not always work in every area, and more expensive technology is not always better. An awareness of the potential of different technologies and their interplay is important, as none of them will provide an answer by themselves.

After the floor was opened to discussion, participants asked questions relating to the potential of big data and artificial intelligence (AI). Miquel stressed that for AI to be effective, data needs to be aggregated in one place, and data sharing is key. Yet, Koulikova reminded the audience that in cases of natural disaster, there might not be the technical capacity to aggregate and share data, considering the potential damage to ICT infrastructure. Satellites can be reallocated to affected areas to increase their data capacity. Responding to a question about the relevance of radio in today’s society, Obreja responded that while traditional radio might have become less popular nowadays, it is sometimes the only working solution in remote areas. In addition, digital radio provides the ability of audio being transmitted from any digital device.

Zavazava closed the session by stressing that for DRR, it is important to use whichever technology is available, depending on the situation at hand. Big data could help detect hazards, although it remains important to also build human capacity, raise awareness, and create sustainable partnerships.

By Barbara Rosen Jacobsen