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.