Presentation at ITU / OASIS Workshop
The disaster that followed the tsunami of December 26 2004 has challenged providers of information and communications technologies to find ways to improve public warning. Warning systems must be able to alert the public about major hazards and should communicate warning messages via all available notification methods.
The WSIS Declaration of Principles has already highlighted the need to pay special attention to conditions that pose severe threats to development, such as natural disasters. The WSIS Action Plan goes on to make a specific call to establish monitoring systems, using Information and Communication Technology (ICT), to forecast and monitor the impact of natural and man-made disasters particularly in developing countries, least developed countries and small economies.
To support these goals, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has launched the Common Alerting Protocol. This initiative provides an enabling environment in which stakeholders everywhere can cooperate to bring the benefits of ICT applications to the area of disaster prevention.
The goal of public warning is that people who are properly alerted will act to reduce the damage and loss of life caused by a natural or man-made hazard event. To ensure that everyone can be alerted, it is essential to leverage all available communications media. To minimize the public confusion that occurs during emergencies, the alerting system should be in routine use for all hazards, not only for rare events such as earthquakes and tsunami, but for severe weather, fire, and other threats.
When public warning is necessary, emergency managers need to get timely and appropriate alerts to everyone who needs them, and to only those who need them. Authoritative alert messages should transmit on all available communications media as appropriate, including broadcast or individual targeting. Alerts should be converted automatically and securely into forms suitable for each technology: Internet messages, news feeds, text captions on television, messages on highway signs, voice on radio and telephones, signals for sirens, etc.
In many nations, common carriers such as radio, television, and telephone networks have implemented particular public alert technologies for hazards or threats such as weather events or civil defense. From the societal perspective of public warning investments, it makes no sense to continue building a separate public warning system for each particular threat. Efficient use of funds as well as effectiveness of public warning both argue for using standards and combining the public warning requirement for all-media coverage with the requirement for an all-hazards approach.
A standards-based, all-media, all-hazards public warning strategy not only makes sense for governments who need to alert the public, it makes sense for a wide range of information technology providers and communications carriers as well. As providers of information and communications migrate to digital technologies, services are being offered that integrate radio and television with cellular and satellite telephone and with a variety of Internet-based and other network services. A service that supports all-hazard alerts and warnings is no longer a matter of designing specialized communications technology, it is a matter of simply agreeing on common standards for the content and handling of such alerts.
The content of alert messages is now being standardized across all hazard types, including severe weather, fires, earthquakes, and tsunami. In 2004, the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) was agreed as an international standard for all-hazard alert messages. All-media distribution of CAP messages is being implemented on ever larger scales, types of alerts, and ranges of technologies. Operational systems have shown that a single authoritative and secure alert message can quickly launch Internet messages, news feeds, television text captions, highway sign messages, and synthesized voice over automated telephone calls or radio broadcasts.
Effective public warning involves many distinct aspects not addressed here, including public education, training, building codes, policy, science, and research, among many others.
Emergency management processes should provide for human judgment between the detection of a threat situation and the issuing of public alerts, usually under control of officials with appropriate responsibilities.
Designers of technologies supporting public warning should take into account that false alarms can be disruptive, expensive, and can degrade public confidence.
In any system of public warning, the authentication of senders and targeted receivers is essential. Also, alerting systems can be targets for deliberate misinformation or denial-of-service attacks.
Where alerting involves existing operational systems, any implementation of new technology will begin in parallel with current operations to assure there is no disruption of service or source of confusion.