Saturday, December 8, 2012

Introducing the Sahana CAP-enabled Messaging Broker to ITU-D Asia Pacific Community

The International Telecommunications Union - Disaster (ITU-D) conducted workshop in Thailand, introduced the utility of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard, to the delegates, through a the Sahana CAP-enabled software and a series of hands-on exercises. The CAP ease-of-use and utility were appreciated by those delegates. Participants experienced the efficiency gains of the single entry of a message being simultaneously disseminated through multiple technologies to multiple recipients, acknowledged the CAP message consistency removing ambiguity that may, otherwise, lead to false responses, and realized the capabilities of brokering multi-agency publishers and subscribers for improved situational-awareness.
ITU-D hosted a session on the topic: “Introduction to Operationalizing the Common Alerting Protocol” at the workshop: “Use of Telecommunications/ICT for Disaster Management1”. This hands-on CAP session was resourceful in producing positive outcomes. Delegates had the opportunity to assess the capabilities of the standard using the CAP-enabled Sahana broker software.

Click to view the workshop report available on the web and the slide deck .

Evidence points to the growing need for a CAP-enabled ITU-D Module (CAP-ITUM). The CAP-ITUM would foster the wider-scale adoption of the the CAP standard and the policies it offers. The ITU branded module would advance the member states, lagging in implementing CAP, with facilitating multi-agency all-hazards all-media warning, alerting, and situational-awareness capabilities, to effectively coordinate hazard events. Since the first release of CAP in 2005, only a handful of member states: North America, Australia, and Germany have adopted the standard. Sri Lanka, an early adopter, has carried out several research projects involving the standard but has not progressed beyond with institutionalizing it at a National level. Other member states have failed to realize the full potential of CAP beyond simply accepting as an interoperable XML schema.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Super summary on - when Gov fails technology-enabled disaster response strives

Dealing with Disasters by Gisli Olafsson is a superb narrative on how technology has boosted the ways in which humanitarian response is taking place.

"The hierarchical level of disaster response works very well in most disasters, since the majority of disasters are small enough to handle locally or with mutual-aid support from nearby cities. Even for medium level disasters, most disasters can be handled at the state level, with minimal support from the federal level. It is however when mega-disasters, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy occur that the entire response model gets stretched beyond its limits. The system was simply not built for so many cities, counties and states to all be experiencing disaster of this magnitude, all at the same time."
 "At the same time we have seen how through an explosion in mobile phone ownership and through social media and networks, people affected by these major disasters are not only communicating their needs but also leveraging those same technologies to coordinate their own community response often independent of the official response channels. Although this community lead response at the moment may result in some duplication of efforts, it in most cases ends up meeting the gaps the official response leaves. This community based response also starts immediately after the disaster, way before the first responders arrive."

Closing the voice-enabled disaster communication project but looking to do more


Summary of the VoiceICT4D project outcomes

  • LIRNEasia, through a stakeholder forum, advocated the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Center (DMC) to move towards a multi-agency situational-awareness platform by creating a register of alerting authorities and then sharing it's call center and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system resources for emergency communication.
  • The “Do you Hear Me” video, communicating the need for voice-enabled Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), to empower community-based emergency coordination, was visited by 496 viewers, of which 48 or them shared their knowledge on the subject. UNISDR debut film festival on DRR, selected our video as as one of the best three in the category of “best human interest story”
  • Peer-reviewed scientific articles presented the realization study evidence emphasizing the practical technical instabilities and deficits in those technologies. The message was news to most researchers and practitioners. IVR-based solutions are gradually gaining momentum.

What next?

A common consensus by various stakeholders are that the Freedom Fone IVR and Sahana disaster management system integration must be completed. The integration would serve non-latin scripting language and lesser computer literate communities. Moreover, develop an off the shelf implementable comprehensive crisis management solution that can be integrated with main stream media or other emergency management organizations.

There are three broad emergency communication use cases that were discovered through the VoiceICT4D activities:
  1. a radio station would manage a missing persons registry comforting concerned citizens of who are missing and who were found
  2. citizen journalists would share risk information of incident reports to effectively coordinate and respond to those troubled situations
  3. community-based disaster management organizations would coordinate their rescue and relief efforts using interactive voice.
The VoiceICT4D project intends to seek resources to complete the integration, implement, and pilot the comprehensive end-to-end crisis management system. The pilot study would investigate the utility and robustness of such an implementation when applied to the three use cases above. Moreover, the pilot would consider implementing them in diverse environments to better understand the adaptability of the technology. VoiceICT4D would transition from the invention stage to an implementation stage; where the technology would be field tested to offer a stable solution to the global crisis management community.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Texting to Save Lives in South Asia (repost)

Texting to save lives in South Asia

​by Marc Ellison

Watch and listen to the audio slideshow

Imagine a world where mobile technology helps to save lives by quickly alerting health authorities of new outbreaks of H1N1, chickenpox, and malaria. Such an early warning system was recently piloted, by a technological think tank LIRNEasia, non-governmental organization Sarvodaya, both from Sri Lanka, and the Rural Technology and Business Incubator in India.
Supported by IDRC, the Real-Time Bio-Surveillance Program tested a modern alternative to the paper-based process introduced by the British over a century ago. Using the current system, local data on infectious diseases takes three to four weeks to make its way to national epidemiology centres, at which point an escalation of common symptoms can be detected. By then, a disease may have caused much harm. In 2003, for example, Sri Lanka’s Central Province faced a fever-like disease that went unnoticed until it claimed three lives.
A LIRNEasia survey found that many healthcare workers only learned of outbreaks through the media, by word of mouth, or from peers.
“We need to be able to view cases in real-time to detect outbreaks swiftly. Otherwise it takes several days before the hospitals send the notification paper forms. By that time the patient may be dead or discharged,” says one public health inspector.

Streamlined disease surveillance
To help make real-time disease detection a reality, LIRNEasia tested a system using mobile phones in an IDRC-supported pilot study.
“Mobile phones are the most affordable technology, with the widest reach in India and Sri Lanka. Data is submitted instantaneously, compared with the current ‘snail mail’ system. It’s also much cheaper. It costs a small fraction of a cent to send data, whereas sending forms via regular mail costs 5 cents,” explains Nuwan Waidyanatha, a LIRNEasia project director.

The concept is simple, but the technology behind it is cutting edge.

Community healthcare workers record a patient’s diagnosis using software installed on a mobile phone. They then submit the data directly to national epidemiology centres in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Chennai, India. A data-mining software — developed at Carnegie Mellon University, United States —analyzes this data on a daily basis, allowing epidemiologists to visualize potential epidemics by using mapping tools.

The specialists can then use the system to return messages to health inspectors, alerting them to potential dangers. These messages can then be translated into the local dialect, relayed to the communities, and placed on bulletin boards in village centres.
The research team tested the system in 28 facilities in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India, and 12 hospitals in the North Western province in Sri Lanka.

A better way to spot outbreaks

The bio-surveillance system has already proved its value. During the 15-months testing phase, the system identified more than a dozen instances of potential disease outbreaks. Four of those (chicken pox, acute diarrheal disease, respiratory tract infection, and mumps) were confirmed by health authorities.

Referring to the chickenpox outbreak in Kurunegala district, Sri Lanka, Waidyanatha says, “The platform was able to detect this outbreak much faster than the paper-based system. The divisional Medical Officer of Health found out about it the next day.”

LIRNEasia found that the new system could reduce operational and archiving costs by 30-50%. For example, public health inspectors would no longer need to travel to town once a week to compile their data; thus eliminating the need for travel subsidies. By limiting potential outbreaks, the new platform could lessen the financial strain on the Indian and Sri Lankan health systems.
Health officials involved with the project indicated that it could be a useful tool to support long term planning and allocation of health resources. The new system can even be used to identify everyday issues in local communities. For example, it “identified that men in Tamil Nadu were complaining of pain during harvest season,” Waidyanatha says. “This highlighted how farmers needed better tools.”

Challenges ahead

LIRNEasia has identified challenges still facing the new system in India and Sri Lanka.

The new process may eliminate the risk of manual-system errors from clerks deciphering the handwriting on paper forms or manually copying patient information into logs. But new problems arose. Submission error rates ranged from 23 to 45% — mostly from different spellings of medical terms such as tuberculosis or the misuse of synonyms like dementia and memory loss. These errors affected the system’s complex statistical analysis, resulting in false predictions.

Although the healthcare workers in this first pilot easily learned how to enter the patient data, some of them saw the new system as a bureaucratic hindrance, while others feared the system would take away their jobs.

A sustainable solution?

Waidyanatha calls the new system a “usable solution,” but one that requires further enhancement.
Subsequent testing in North Western province, by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, identified more areas for improvement. The infectious disease control nurses involved in the trial found it difficult to enter data with the mobile keypad, leading researchers to conclude that more sophisticated phones, or tablets, with touch screens or the capability of reading handwriting may be better.

It is clear that technological will and capacity are important factors – but that they need to be examined in the broader context of political will and social acceptance by the different users.
The project has raised awareness of the important gains that technology could bring to public health surveillance in developing countries like India and Sri Lanka.  More research is needed to find the right tools for busy healthcare workers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beyond Tsunami Warning in a Vocal Society

My first public lecture: the 3rd LIRNEasia Public Lecture was conducted at a time when the Sri Lanka National Disaster Management Center (DMC) was being questioned for it's reliability. The Public Lecture follows two major hazard events: 1) 2011 November 21 Matara Mini Cyclone and 2) 2012 April 11 false tsunami evacuation.

The Government of Sri Lanka failed to warn the fishermen of the deadly mini cyclone that lead to 29 deaths. Detection theorist may label this incident as a missed alarm but essentially it is a true alarm with failed actions. There was a lot of finger pointing between agencies for one denying the responsibility over the other. Such a tragic situation could have been over come if a register of alerting authorities with a profile and procedures and a multi-agency situational awareness technology platform had been in place. The DMC held a stakeholder workshop to discuss a way forward.
With respect to incident 2), the tsunami evacuations continued even after the threat was called off, which insinuates a lack of competence. Decision theorist, from the eyes of a Policy-maker's loss function (i.e. government bureaucrats and politicians prospective), would consider this as a success; thus, the ability to warn of any tsunamigenic earthquake. However, from the eyes of Stakeholder's loss function, such as fishermen not going out to sea anticipating a tsunami, the false warning deprive them of a days house hold income.

The Public Lecture was partially funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) through the VoiceICT4D project. The aim of this action was to strategically address the public at a right time when the message was sure to be heard by those who should hear it. The lecture presented the formula for removing the aforementioned uncertainties. The Director General of the Sri Lanka DMC, himself, was present at this lecture and was appointed the task of moderating this event. His words following the main presentation was “thank you Nuwan this is an eye-opener.”

The public lecture message intended for the Director General and the audience to hear was that the inter-agency rivalry and reduction of false warnings can be achieved through the adoption of interoperable emergency standards along with the policies and procedures that wrap around those standards. The VoiceICT4D project was designed to educate society of the power of voice-enabled technologies and interoperable data standards. A summary of the Public Lecture talks, on LIRNEasia's blog, outlines the key points.

Sri Lankan's, like most other Eastern societies are accustomed to talking to one another over the phone whether it be personal, business, or informing each other of a crisis, more so than text-ing. The video “do you hear me?”, which was produced through the HIF grant, was screened to remind the public and the DMC of the local requirement. Coincidently, the DMC had invested in a call center and an IVR for emergency information collection and dissemination. LIRNEasia has offered to share the lessons learned from it's voice-enabled ICT for Disaster pilot.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making Emergency Communication Effective

3rd LIRNEasia's Disaster Risk Reduction Public Lecture

19 June 2012 15:00 – 17:00
Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, 100 Independent Square, Colombo 07

Please join us to discuss how to improve disaster risk reduction practices.

There is a growing need to dilute inter-agency rivalry and foster lateral integration for sharing of risk information for effective response. To that end, the public lecture will focus on actions to improve alerting and situational-reporting between agencies. Thereby, reducing the decision-maker's loss functions; namely, reduction of false and missed alarms, stakeholder losses, and policy-maker losses. A proven action would be to establish an emergency communication profile for Sri Lanka and and implementing a multi-agency situational-awareness software tool. Such a tool and procedures can help bring organizations together to better communicating risk information and ease them away from unproductive silo thinking. It will also allow the national Disaster Management Center to better regulate those communications.

The main speaker is LIRNEasia's Senior Research Fellow: Nuwan Waidyanatha. He has strong credentials in disaster management, especially with emergency communication and early warning systems design, development, and experimentation. His research is highly regarded and continuously promoted by international organizations such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Organization for the Advancement of Standardized Information Systems (OASIS) and the United Nations System for Influenza Coordination (UNSIC). Additionally, disaster management researchers and practitioners from the North Americas and the Asia Pacific consult to benefit from his first hand knowledge in the subject

The Panelists: Prof. Dileeka Dias, (Director, University of Moratuwa Dialog Mobile Communications Research Laboratory), Mr. Mifan Careem (Chief Executive Officer, Respere Lanka), and Dr. Buddhi Weerasinghe (independent Regional Disaster Management Consultant) will complement the main talk with their contributions in strengthening Sri Lanka's disaster management capabilities.

LIRNEasia s premier CSR activity intended to advance knowledge about good disaster risk reduction practices in Sri Lanka and the region.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How the Sahana CAP Broker can break the Interagency Rivalry

Every where Government agencies are territorial and fear losing their budgets and ability to stand ground. Therefore, choose to work as a silo with less lateral integration. Such structures are ineffective and lead to irresponsible behaviour at the expense of causing havoc on the citizens.

Time and time again we hear of the shortcomings arising from unplanned and ad-hoc procedures carried out in the presence of hazard events. The past experience being the 2012 April 11 Sumatra earthquake. There were no proper procedures to determine the effects of the earthquake. Simply fearing and anticipating the ultimate (i.e. playing safe than sorry), one and only action is to evacuate all 2-3 KM inland. Beware of the consequence of over alerting.

Had their been proper inter-agency communication, not just nationally but regionally, then a simple procedure would be to alert the first responders to man their stations, then monitor the updates from Indonesia or other regional agencies to be informed and be attuned to the situation before executing evacuation plans. If, Indonesia gets hit then execute evacuations; else stand down with an “all clear” message sent to the first-responders. Evacuations are not cheap there’s a cost in it for all, both the public and private sectors.

The, 2011 November 21, Matara Mini-cyclone had agencies bestowed with responsibilities failing to rise to the occasion at the time of need. Then agencies that were unauthorized to issue alerts, but stood up to the moment for the greater good of saving lives, were punished. There’s a simple solution to breaking these silos or rivalry and integrating them for the sake of handling emergencies in a smart and responsible way; and that is by creating a “Register of Alerting Authorities” to decentralize the alerting with policies allowing, not just disaster management but, all agencies holding a stake to act with jurisdiction and hazard specific alerting rights.

Step 1 – Establishing the Register of Alerting Authorities. It is the first step towards developing a Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) country profile, which defines the jurisdictions, who can alert whom for what hazards, so on and so forth.

Step 2 – Agree on and mandate the country CAP-Profile. I was part of the team that developed the CAP-Profile for Sri Lanka and then field tested it in the 2005-2008 HazInfo project for bridging the last-mile. Thereafter, modified to test it in the Biosurveillance work for disseminating health alert.

Step 3 – Adopt a situational-awareness and alerting software tool. Once the CAP profile is established it easy to implement and operationalize the Sahana CAP Broker, which LIRNEasia has been researching, developing, and field testing over the past half a decade. The Sahana CAP Broker was field tested in the HazInfo, Biosurveillance, and recently in voice-enabled alerting to activate Community Emergency Response Team members.

These three steps, especially, the software allows for the integration, decentralization, and monitoring of the alerting responsibilities. A simple procedure, with the use of the Sahana CAP Broker, in relation to the Matara Mini Cyclone incident would be:
  1. Meteorological department identifies the potential threat of the Mini Cyclone and posts and issues an alert to which relevant agencies such as the Fisheries Department would subscribe to.
  2. The Fisheries Department that maintains a contact list of Fishermen in the Matara District send an SMS to the Fishermen.
  3. The Matara District Disaster Management Center issues a Cell Broadcast to targeting citizens in the Matara District coastal and vulnerable areas.
  4. The National Disaster Management Center notifies the TV and Radio stations to make the public aware of the threat.
LIRNEasia is in par with developing countries in terms of research and developments, when it comes to emergency communication, especially one that takes in to account of the latest technology developments and procedures. However, LIRNEasia is not proud of rejoicing to a level that the positive findings are nationalized.
Even the Canadians have learned from our research to adopt last-mile warning strategies for their remote Inuit villages as well as adopting CAP recommendations such as defining priority level for response strategies. Despite sharing our knowledge and making it available at the doorstep, Sri Lanka lags in establishing an effective and streamlined warning and alerting procedures. Nevertheless, developed countries, on the contrary, are quick to grab the new ideas and implement them to it’s fullest.

Here’s an example -

Multi Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS) was the highlight of the ISCRAM2012 with Jack Pagatto showcasing their innovation in their efforts to unite emergency coordination and real-time information exchange between agencies in Canada. MASAS is a simple spatial and temporal application that displays all kinds of situations-awareness messages on a map; or “CAP on a MAP” as us CAP adopters call it. The messages can be filtered labelled and shared with any other system or organization. The sharing of information is through simple CAP messaging. The CAP CAN (or CAP Canada) is a well established CAP profile that was advocated through Environmental Canada. MASAS takes advantage of the policies and system efficiencies around the CAP standard and the Canadian CAP profile.
Jack Pagatto began his keynote speech with an example of a case related to a teenager’s unfortunate and preventable death. The thirteen year old boy was suffering from a sever respiratory attack (chronic asthma) and his elder sister, in the absence of their parents, called the paramedics. When the ambulance arrived in the near vicinity of patient’s home the paramedics encountered a stretch of unmotorable flood waters, as a result had to detour, which took an additional 20 minutes to arrive at the scene. By then the boy had passed on. Such a incident could have been prevented if, the ambulatory service was aware of the local flood situation. MASAS is the catalyst for sharing situational reports across all agencies in efforts to prevent similar situations in the future. It works in a way that all agencies with a stake in emergency work have rights and privileges to post alerts at any level.

Keeping in mind, CAP is the underlying play maker that allows for MASAS to be a success with interagency emergency data exchange in real-time. “NIEM Simplified” is a video that elegantly summarizes the discrepancies around disparate systems prohibiting swift and accurate data interchange between systems and organizations. CAP is the solution to this problem that fosters a National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). However, there are complexities with uncertainties and fear factor of sharing real-time emergency information. The solution is to simplify the problem and “keep it simple with CAP”, Pagatto says.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Google Goggles for Incident Reporting

We've been experimenting with voice and text based technologies for situational reporting; more specifically, field observation reports that Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members share with the incident management hub.

Can Google's Goggles be an instrument to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness for grassroots CERT members in supplying information. We found the voice-enabled technologies are best suited for developing non-English speaking and lesser computer literate countries like Sri Lanka. Emergency responders are familiar and find it easy to use simple voice calls.

Given that Google's Goggles can record a voicemail and take a photo, a possible Sahan interface may be to use such a device to enable rapid incident reporting. Procedure is simple, tell the story about the incident (of field observation), click a photo, then location and time stamp it, press submit.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Naturally Interactive Voice works for Emergency Communications in Sri Lanka

It's not just Sri Lanka but most developing countries where voice is the predominant mode of communications can be easily adopted for emergency communications. This is my interview with Freedom Fone.

Monday, February 13, 2012

CAP Text not allowed to Speak in USA

The U.S. has banned Emergency Alerting Systems from using Text-To-Speech in broadcasting Common Alerting Protocol generated messages.

Excerpt from the article – Many of those in my community have a hard time understanding the current version of text to speech. In other words, us old folks can’t hear what the computer is saying. There’s also the issue of geographical differences in words. For example, is “soda” and “pop” the same as “soda pop” or “Coke”. If one were to write “I’d like a Coke and fries”, the computer will read that hearer may need more information, ex. “We don’t serve Coke, is Royal Crown Cola OK?”

Here's what I had to say in the LIRNEasia blog relating it to the Freedom Fone and Sahana project.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sahana Google Code-In Students work on CAP Broker

Once again Sahana participated in 2011 Google Code-In. Happy to have been part of it mentoring students. A big thrill was that they worked on the few research tasks that were related to the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) Broker. The two main tasks were:
  1. develop a blueprint with wireframe to port the Sahana Agasti CAP Broker to Sahana Eden (because Sahana Agasti CAP Broker is no longer supported by the community; moreover, the new version that will be built in to Eden would build on the lessons learned and improve the shortcomings from the piece-wise build original version)
  2. develop a wireframe to build an XSL Editor (mainly to develop XSL files to transform full CAP messages to deliver through short-text, long-text, and voice-text messages through email, SMS, IVR, Twitter, etc)
The CAP Broker is a tool that I have been researching on and developing over the past six years. The real need of a CAP Broker is in early warning. Based on the systems definition for early warning system, it requires a Broker to acts as a messaging pivot between those who publish alerts/warnings and those who subscribe to them.

The first works were with the HazInfo project, when we tested various wireless technologies for their ability to carry CAP messages to last-mile communities. There was an opportunity to further develop and test it for cyclones and hurricanes but we failed to win the hearts of NSA to nail the grant. There was also interest to build the libraries and test components that would carry CAP messages over Radio Data Systems; however, could not secure any funding to try this as well.

What we did achieve was testing CAP over HF data platform. The first working Sahana CAP broker was tested for health alerting with delivery over HTTP, Email, SMS, and RSS. Then recently, the field testing of CAP messages disseminated through an IVR.

STANDBY ... There's more work to be done and shared.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Social Network Stats are Wrong Wrong

I caught this InfoGraphic on "how the world uses social networks" off a tweet. Once you read it you notice that it excludes India and China the two worlds largest populations. Those two countries are also Internet giants; especially China. I don't know about India but living in Kunming, China I know and see how people use, the famous QQ (here's the link to the International version). This author: Tony D’Altorio (Investment U Research) does a nice economic analysis on "How Does Renren Compare to Facebook?". One would say that the Chinese versions are not international and if it was would foreigners use it. Tencent does offer QQ in six languages for now. This article: "Will Foreigners Use a Chinese Microblog if the Version is in English?" tells a good story how certain industries can capitalize. I have a QQ account but the problem is that Tencent does not offer a desktop QQ Linux version of the international package yet. Moreover, for me to Weibo (microblog like twitter) I need a Chinese ID number; i.e. for citizens only! These requirements are not barriers to enter Twitter or Facebook.