The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

LIRNEasia holds discussion on disaster risk management


How can emergency communication be more effective? LIRNEasia recently facilitated a Disaster Risk Reduction Lecture on the subject at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.LIRNEasia is a regional information and communication technology policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific. This session’s focus was on disaster risk management and reduction, a timely topic for Sri Lanka as the island still recovers from the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and the tsunami-scare earlier in the year.

LIRNEasia senior research fellow Nuwan Waidyanatha’s talk was preceded by the opening presentation by Major General (Retd.) Gamini Hettiarachchi, Director General of the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre. Major General Hettiarachchi spoke about Sri Lanka’s tsunami warning system and outlined the basic structure of a tsunami warning alert. The presentation was an eye opener, as it revealed that despite beliefs to the contrary, Sri Lanka had quite an intricate and widespread tsunami warning system.

Mr. Waidyanatha’s talk on ‘Making Emergency Communication Effective’ highlighted the importance of making that communication system effective; i.e. when disaster strikes, how best to use that system to move people out of harm’s way and into safety.

While commending the warning mechanism in place for tsunamis, he pointed out that over the years Sri Lanka had been more commonly affected by floods and landslides, with more damage from those in the long-run, so the country’s disaster management authorities need to focus on those issues. The tsunami, he pointed out, happened only once; whereas these other environmental disasters were more frequent. He also stressed on the importance of building trust among the public with regard to disaster warning, and using that trust to more effectively protect them from disasters.

Noting that written and electronic forms of communication would be ineffective considering the fast response needed for evacuation, a solution of using pre-recorded telephone calls was suggested. A 10 minute video titled ‘Do You Hear Me?’ was screened to demonstrate the local need for voice-enabled emergency communication. Mifan Careem, the Chief Technical Officer of Respere Lanka spoke about the Sahana-based National Relief and Rehabilitation Software.

Recognizing the complexities of managing multiple agencies and offering a common platform to manage all hazards, all media-alerting and reporting, the Common Alerting Protocol-enabled Sahana Alerting/Messaging Module was presented.
Professor Dileeka Dias, Director of the University of Moratuwa Dialog Mobile Communications Library also spoke on the integration of telecommunications and disaster management. Consultant Dr. Buddhi Weerasinghe, delivered ‘Reaching the Last Mile’ wrapping up the session with a humorous account of an evacuation drill in a village.

Having told the villagers that the evacuation alarm would sound at 9 a.m. they were surprised to receive a call at 6 a.m. with the news that many of the village elders had already packed and were taking the evacuation route. Rooting deeper into the cause, they found that the villagers had mistaken an ambulance siren for the evacuation alarm. The example was bought up to highlight the vitality of awareness among the general public if they are to respond to even the most effective evacuation attempt.

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