11 August 2017

Putting people and their communities at the centre of early warning systems


David Britton, Met Office

Whilst there may be similarities, weather warnings from around the globe rarely look the same and have often been developed in different ways. The ultimate aim of warnings, however, must be to reach the communities that need to respond, and, beyond that, to be trusted and listened to so that the right action can be taken.

We often talk about Early Warning Systems (EWS) that are developed in a top-down manner, for example from global to regional to national or from national to county to community. However, what could we learn if we were to reverse engineer this process? Could we enhance sustainability, trust and action through the creation of partnerships with the very communities that warnings are designed to protect?

During the UNISDR Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, the Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, and Deltares, a water research institute from the Netherlands, came together to explore the specific theme of how people-centred early warning systems can build resilience and save lives.

So can communities be placed at the centre of early warning development and delivery? We believe that the answer is yes.

Joined by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC), YAKKUM Emergency Unit, and the Anguilla Department of Disaster Management, the Met Office and Deltares presented examples of how users and communities can be at the centre of warning development whether delivering to a city of 20 million people or a village of 200.

Typhoon forecasts and warnings in the Philippines

The Met Office and Deltares have both collaborated with PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) to support them in developing their work with the disaster management authorities and local community in Metro Manila. The aim was to develop and enhance the forecasting of typhoons, heavy rainfall and potential flooding. The partnership supported the delivery of workshops with PAGASA and the users of the warnings to develop the types of warnings that would be trusted and understood through the delivery of impact based warnings.

Addressing vulnerability to flood risk in Indonesia

YAKKUM Emergency Unit have been working with government, local agencies, churches, community members and others in Indonesia to develop, build and operate flood early warning systems that address the local communities’ vulnerability to flood risk. Their work has led to sustainable social partnerships that empower communities to build, with training, their own flood warning towers that can provide colour coded warnings and alerts. This ownership, backed up with awareness campaigns and practice drills, means that warnings are listened to and communities lead the development of the warning service.

Using innovative funding in Togo

6,000 people were affected by flooding in Togo in 2010, even though forecasts predicted the rainfall. In response to this event, communities have gone on to develop flood-warning systems that enable them to take earlier action. Financing is also released to help prepare local communities for developing emergencies. The RCCC, for example, have been developing forecast-based financing programmes that release funds when warnings are issued, rather than waiting for the disaster to strike. Their FUNES hydro-meteorological tool posts daily two-day forecast risk levels on a colour-coded basis. Communities are then able to respond through planned associated actions dependent on the risk level indicated.

Community first

Putting the community at the centre of the development of early warning systems and disaster risk reduction ensures that services are those most appropriate for the communities at which they are aimed. For the organisations involved in EWS development, we must listen first and act second to make sure we understand the challenges faced by communities and how best these can be addressed. By understanding community needs, warnings can be designed in a way to ensure that they are relevant, accessible and understood so that they are listened to and, critically, acted upon. 

The Side Event ‘People Centered Early Warnings Systems - can we really bring about change?’, included presentations by Catalina Jaime - Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Hepi Rahmawati - YAKKUM Emergency Unit, Damian Barker - Anguilla Department of Disaster Management, Daniel Twigt – Deltares, Dave Britton – Met Office and was chaired by Chadia Wannous –UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and moderated by Virginia Murray – Public Health England.

Dave Britton is the Met Office’s Head of International, Development. His work involves leading the strategic relationship with the UK Governments Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office to support them in meeting their objectives – this includes supporting the departments with everything from policy relevant climate advice for Africa and South Asia, warnings and forecasts in support of international humanitarian emergencies or natural disasters through to supporting capacity building projects across the developing world and supporting disaster risk reduction on the global stage.

Dave joined the Met Office in 1997 after completing his degree in Physics and Atmospheric Physics at the University of Aberystwyth and Masters of Research in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Reading. He began his career in the Met Office as a weather forecaster becoming Deputy Chief Forecaster in the Met Office Operations Centre where he was responsible for Met Office forecast guidance over the 2 to 15 day forecast period. Following his forecasting career Dave has taken on roles in resource management, change management and as Head of News and Social Media. Dave has been Head of International Development since 2013 leading the Met Office’s efforts to work in partnership for sustainable development through worldwide delivery of weather and climate services.

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