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.