Olly Parsons | GSMA | Fri, 06 Feb 2015 14:50:02 +0000

Communication is recognised now by many as a critical form of aid (#Commisaid) Early Warning Systems (EWS) aim to alert those at risk before the impacts of a disaster have been felt, giving valuable seconds, minutes or in some cases even hours to prepare and move to safety. Earthquake EWS have been shown to provide up to 60 seconds notice before a full tremor is felt. In the case of a tsunami, the initial trigger earthquake can occur hours before a wave reaches shore. Effective communication within this critical window can vastly change the outcome. It can mean the difference between a natural event and a natural disaster.

In 2004, one of the worst humanitarian disasters in living memory, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, caused the deaths of almost 250,000 people. A further 500,000 people were injured and 2 million displaced. With no EWS in place, as well as a low level of awareness as to what a tsunami even was, 35,000 lives were lost in Sri Lanka alone. This was in despite of the fact there were approximately 90 minutes between the earthquake which triggered the tsunami, and the tsunami reaching the east coast of the country.

Much has changed in the past decade. The scientific community, as well as wider communities in general, have a much higher understanding of the risks and responses associated with tsunamis. The mobile industry has also increased the role it plays in this space – realising the lifesaving potential of its critical communication infrastructure. On December 26th 2014, the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Sri Lankan Mobile Network Operator Dialog unveiled version 2 of is Disaster and Emergency Warning Network; DEWN v2. Developed in the aftermath of the 2004 disaster, DEWN v1 utilised the growing mobile penetration rates in the country and built a system to fully utilise the capability of mobile communication to form an early warning network. An initial success, continued advances in technology over this period have meant that Dialog and its partners have been able to grow and develop the DEWN system, as well as having to overcome challenges along the way. The success of DEWN has also brought additional attention and popularity, and as such the Sri Lankan Government declared that the system should be accessible to all mobile subscribers, irrespective of their network operator.

The tragic events of 2004 prompted the development of a tool that is used daily by local community leaders, emergency services, religious chiefs and the general public. From early beginnings with purpose-built alarm devices and basic smartphone compatibility, DEWN v2 issues alerts in many different formats; has full functionality for Cell Broadcast on 3G networks, issues SMS messages and allows message acknowledgement. It also works with an Android App. Accessibility requirements have been addressed, improving access for those with visual or hearing impediments. The economic and social benefits of this ongoing project continue to have a positive impact in Sri Lanka.

The development of DEWN stands out as a best practice example of how multi-sector entities can pool their respective strengths to develop a high-quality national service to alert citizens of impending danger.

The full technical report can be accessed here.