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Effective Disaster Warnings

 

From a Report dated November 2000 issued by the
Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems
Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction
Committee on Environment and Natural Resources
National Science and Technology Council

 

IMPORTANT NOTE - THE FOLLOWING EXCERPTS ARE ALL DIRECTLY FROM THIS REPORT

 

Disasters and Hazards Warnings


The goal of this Report is to provide a broad overview of major issues related to warning the right people at the right time so that they can take appropriate action with respect to the disaster. It addresses the problems of delivering warnings reliably to only those people at risk and to systems that have been preprogrammed to respond to early warnings. Although the technology presently exists to build smart receivers to customize warnings to the users’ local situation whether at home, at work, outdoors, or in their cars, substantial improvement can be made with better utilization of emerging opportunities provided by existing and new technologies.

(PAGE 4 – COVER LETTER FROM ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY)

 

People at risk from disasters, whether natural or human in origin, can take actions that save lives, reduce losses, speed response, and reduce human suffering when they receive accurate warnings in a timely manner. The technology presently exists to build smart receivers to customize warnings to the users’ local situation, whether at home, at work, outdoors, or in their cars.

(PAGE 6 – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY)

 

This report addresses the problems of delivering warnings reliably to only those people at risk and to systems that have been preprogrammed to respond to early warnings. Further, the report makes recommendations on how substantial improvement can be made if the providers of warnings can become better coordinated and if they can better utilize the opportunities provided by existing and new technologies.

(PAGE 6 – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY)

 

The information and technology revolutions now underway provide a multitude of ways to deliver effective disaster warnings… The technology exists. The problem is to implement standards and procedures that private industry can rely on to justify development and widespread distribution of a wide variety of receivers.

(PAGE 7 – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY)

 

This report provides the background information to justify the following recommendations:

  • A public/private partnership is needed that can leverage government and industry needs, capabilities, and resources in order to deliver effective disaster warnings.
  • A standard method should be developed to collect and relay instantaneously and automatically all types of hazard warnings and reports locally, regionally, and nationally for input into a wide variety of dissemination systems.
  • Warnings should be delivered through as many communication channels as practicable so that those users who are at risk can receive them whether inside or outside, in transportation systems, or at home, work, school, or shopping, and such.

(PAGE 7 – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY)

 

Effective warnings allow people to take actions that save lives, reduce damage, reduce human suffering, and speed recovery… There are many new technologies that provide the chance not only to reach just the people at risk, but also to personalize the message to their particular situation. Industry is poised to design and market those systems that prove to be cost effective. Industry needs to know how the warnings can be provided to their systems and what standards or regulations they can depend on. The opportunities are available right now to reduce significantly the loss of life and economic hardship if we simply become better coordinated… Widespread communication depends on funneling the information from many or all centers into communications systems that can reach thousands to millions of people rapidly. When the losses, speed response, and improve recovery.

 (PAGE 9 – INTRODUCTION)

 

We have a major national problem: disaster costs are high and rising. Recently, OSTP has estimated that between 1992 and 1996, natural disasters cost the United States approximately $1 billion each week (Padovani, 1997)… Future disasters are expected to increase these costs dramatically.

(PAGE 11)

 

Effective warnings can provide a significant reduction in the loss of both life and property.

(PAGE 13)

 

Manmade or technological disasters are of increasing concern, whether acts of terrorism or accidental. Time is of the essence in limiting the effects of such disasters, especially biological or chemical spills, and even computer viruses. The needs for rapid notification are similar and just as great as for natural disasters.

(PAGE 14)

 

Principal conclusions from the literature that influence the effectiveness of warnings are:

  1. Warnings are most effective when delivered to just the people at risk. If people not at risk are warned, they will tend to ignore future warnings. Thus, if tornado or flash-flood warnings, for example, are issued for a county or larger region, but only a small percentage of the people who receive the warning are ultimately affected, most people conclude that such warnings are not likely to affect them.
  2. If warnings that are not followed by the anticipated event are inconvenient, people are likely to disable the warning device. For example, if you are awakened in the middle of the night to be warned of several events that do not ultimately affect you, you are likely to disable the warning device.
  3. A variety of warning devices needs to be used in order to reach people according to what activity they are engaged in.

 (PAGES 18 & 19)

 

A standard method should be developed to collect and relay instantaneously and automatically all types of hazard warnings and reports locally, regionally, and nationally for input into a wide variety of dissemination systems.

(PAGE 25)

 

There is a clear need for industry and government to use public and private resources to evaluate all aspects implementing emergency wireless broadcast of emergency information in the near future. This technology would be especially useful in tornado country so that prototype systems might be implemented in such regions first.

(PAGE 35)

 

Technology offers a broad range of possibilities for receiving warnings of potentially hazardous events. Each alternative has advantages and disadvantages, but it is only through a blend of systems that it will be possible to reach most people at risk wherever they are located and whatever they are doing… Warning systems should similarly be systems used every day for other purposes so that they are valued and kept operational.

(PAGE 35)

 

It is now technically feasible to have radios, televisions, telephones, pagers, and other commonly used equipment contain a small amount of circuitry that monitors continuously for emergency signals and when appropriate, turns the equipment on and emits a message or alarm.

(PAGE 36)

 

RECOMMENDATION: Warnings should be delivered through as many communication channels as practicable so that those users who are at risk can get the message whether inside or outside, at home, work, or school, while shopping or in transportation systems. Delivery of the warning should have minimal effect on the normal use of such communication channels, especially for users who will not be affected.

(PAGE 36)

 

RECOMMENDATION: The greatest potential for new consumer items in the near future is development of a wide variety of smart receivers and the inclusion of such circuits within standard receivers. A smart receiver would be able to turn itself on or interrupt current programming and issue a warning only when the potential hazard will occur near the particular receiver.

(PAGE 36)

 

RECOMMENDATION: A public/private partnership is needed that can leverage government and industry needs, capabilities, and resources to deliver effective disaster warnings. The Disaster Information Task Force (1997) that examined the feasibility of a global disaster information network has also recommended such a partnership.

(PAGE 39)

 

 

GDIN SUMMARY REPORT

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