By Andy McElroy
Sendai – Early warning systems have a proven track record of saving lives but even the most technically impressive systems “are useless” if people are not reached or do not understand the warning.
The Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Ocean Committee, Mr. Vladimir Ryabinin, told the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that early warning set-ups had to provide information that is usable and used.
“Even the most advanced systems in the world are useless if people do not respond to the warning,” Mr Ryabinin told participants at the ‘Lessons from Mega-Disasters’ session. “People need to know what to do in the event of a tsunami. We need to educate people. Japan provides an excellent example in this.”
The Director-General of the Japan Meteorological Agency, Mr. Noritake Nishide, expanded on the Japanese approach and how early warning had improved since the 2011 earthquake. More accurate seismology monitors have been installed, key partnerships have been strengthened, and better communication of key information to at-risk populations has been established.
Three factors have been crucial to this better preparedness: first, the issuing of daily earthquake information sensitizes and increases the awareness of the population; second, the holding of regular disaster scenarios – including their real-time evaluation – to increase preparedness; and third, greater adoption of a multi-hazard approach to disaster resilience.
Experience from Chile after the country’s massive earthquake in February 2010 had also revealed the need for a more resilient communications system and better links with technical agencies. The Deputy Director of Chile’s Port Works Division Ministry of Public Works, Chile, Mr. Eduardo Mesina, said these were two of the biggest priority areas identified.
The World Meteorological Organization also announced today plans to support governments and others in developing multi-hazard early warning systems that provide a coordinated platform for managing multiple risks.
“Fortunately we have the knowledge and tools we need to prepare for and reduce these risks. Effective disaster response requires political leadership to ensure investments in preparedness and prevention combined with weather forecasts, warnings, media reports, emergency response, health facilities, and recovery plans,” said Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General.
WMO is also working with its Members to develop “impact-based warnings” that describe a predicted event’s physical impacts and recommend specific precautionary actions.
One of the world’s first multi-hazard early warning systems has been established in Shanghai, a mega city of over 23 million people. This systems delivers alerts on tropical cyclones, storm surges, and extreme temperatures, as well as on floods, diseases, physical damage and other resulting impacts.