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ICT for Disaster Risk Reduction

ICT for Disaster Risk Reduction

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UNESCAP: Information and Communications Technology for Disaster Risk Reduction. Aimed at policy- and decision-makers from developing countries working on disaster risk reduction in the Asia and the Pacific region, this policy brief discusses ICT infrastructure and applications for disaster risk reduction. http://www.unescap.org
UNESCAP: Information and Communications Technology for Disaster Risk Reduction. Aimed at policy- and decision-makers from developing countries working on disaster risk reduction in the Asia and the Pacific region, this policy brief discusses ICT infrastructure and applications for disaster risk reduction. http://www.unescap.org

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Published by: ICTdocs on Jan 18, 2010
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Telecommunications networks
Space-based AirborneGround-based(e.g. seismic)
Data collectionand sharing
Integration, monitoringand warningDissemination andcommunicationEmergency responsecapability
Radio & TVE-mailCell phonesSirensOther...Shelter Situation reports,surveys, photos,etc.From peopleFrom sensors
Data clearinghouses,websitesHistorical dataSocio-economic data,disasters statistics,maps, etc.+Recent dataSpatial information systems- Visualize the situation- Apply models and forecastsCrisis mgmt. systemsStockpile mgmt. systemsThreat?
United NationsE S C A P
I S S U E N O . 4 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
Extreme weather conditions and natural disasters aretaking an increasing toll, in both human and economicterms. The international community, having realized thegravity of this ominous trend early on, adopted the HyogoFramework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilienceof Nations and Communities to Disasters. In theFramework, countries agreed on actions to reduce theloss of life and the socio-economic and environmentalimpacts of disasters, including identifying, assessing andmonitoring disaster risks and enhancing early warning, aswell as strengthening disaster preparedness. Globally,2008 was the third most expensive year on record inregard to disaster-related economic damage. In the Asiaand the Pacific region, 2008 was marred by CycloneNargis, which devastated the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar and killed an estimated 130,000 people, and theearthquake that struck Sichuan Province in China, whichaffected millions and left more than 85,000 dead. In termsof deaths, Cyclone Nargis ranks among the worst fivecyclones, and the Sichuan earthquake among the worst10 earthquakes, since 1900.It is widely recognized that information and communi-cations technology (ICT), including space-basedtechnology, plays an important role in establishingeffective early warning systems and successfullyconducting emergency preparedness and responseactivities. Aimed at policy- and decision-makers fromdeveloping countries working on disaster risk reduction inthe Asia and the Pacific region, this policy brief discussesuseful infrastructure and applications and recommendsactions on how to mainstream and enhance their use indisaster risk reduction efforts, in particular with respect toearly warning systems.
ICT tools for early warning systems,emergency preparedness andresponse
The main functions supported by the tools presented inthe present policy brief include the following:
Information collection and sharing
Decision support systems, through the integration
of geo-spatial data
Communication and dissemination
Emergency preparedness and response A simplified model of an early warning system is providedin the figure.
Information and communications technology for disaster risk reduction
Data from different sources are collected and monitored in real- or near real-time and analysed to generate a warningalert if the combination of factors point to the likelihood of a disaster.
Simplified model of an early warning system
Information collection and sharing
 A number of ICT tools are available to help systematicallycollect data and undertake risk assessments so that thebehaviour of hazards and the socio-economic vulnerabi-lities of communities can be better understood. Thesetools can be offshore (tsunami buoys), ground-based(automated hydro-meteorological observing systems,broadband seismometers, portable digital cameras andelectronic handheld devices), airborne (lidar) or space-based (optical and radar satellite remote sensing, globalpositioning systems); all are used to acquire data for various types of hazard monitoring and at different stagesof disaster risk management. For example, the WorldMeteorological Organization collects data through morethan 20,000 manned and automatic weather stations inorder to monitor hazards. Processed satellite images of affected areas for damage assessment and disaster response can be provided by other global and regionalinitiatives, such as the International Charter on Space andMajor Disasters and Sentinel Asia, in the event of major impending disasters and upon the request of countries.Stakeholders in disaster risk reduction began col-laborating with each other through national and regionalmultisectoral mechanisms, with the objective of sharingknowledge and tools for improving access to informationand implementing measures of disaster risk reduction.This is increasingly done through the Internet, using dataclearinghouses, informational websites, documentdepositories, discussions forums and communities of practice (for example, PreventionWeb). It is important toestablish international standards for describing data(metadata) to enable the practical usage of the data thatare made available.
Decision support systems
Promoting synergies in hazard monitoring and riskidentification through the functional integration of scientificand technical organizations working in meteorology,geology and geophysics, oceanography and environ-mental management, among other fields, has beenidentified as a key action towards reducing disaster risks.It is equally important to reflect socio-economicperspectives in the process. Relevant organizationsshould have the capability to integrate hazard and riskinformation, as well as to identify and monitor theparameters influencing the hazards, and should haveaccess to decision support tools.Decision support tools include spatial information systemsdesigned to assist in integrating and analysing vastamounts of historical and real-time data and in displayingthe data in user-friendly ways. Geographic informationsystems can superpose multiple layers of spatialinformation derived from the processing and interpretationof remotely sensed data (such as land use andgeomorphology) with other geographical and cartographicinformation (such as elevation and slope). Thisinformation can be linked to statistical databases(for example, those with figures on population density),resulting in maps on which high-risk areas can bematched with the socio-economic features of the society.Countries in the Indian Ocean receive internationaltsunami warnings from the Pacific Tsunami WarningCenter and the Japan Meteorological Agency, which usedecision support systems to forecast whether anearthquake may cause a tsunami. These tools are alsouseful to policy- and decision-makers addressing issuessuch as unplanned and poorly managed urban growth,rural poverty and vulnerability, and declining ecosystems,which together have been identified as the driversunderlying the increase in disaster risk.
Communication and dissemination
Voice and data communication continue to be of crucialimportance in the context of disaster management. Sometools, such as traditional radio and television, are ideal for one-way mass communication, as they have highpenetration rates in most countries. Other types of radiotools, such as community, amateur, shortwave andsatellite broadcasting, are also suitable for transmittinginformation for universal coverage. The Internet, e-mailand mobile telephones are becoming increasinglyimportant broadcasting tools. Cellular phones providemobility, two-way communication, location-based servicesand privacy. As more poor people in many developingcountries of Asia and the Pacific obtain access to suchphones, special attention must be given to making newcontent and early warning alerts suitable for thesedevices.
Emergency preparedness andresponse
National and community disaster preparedness andresponse capabilities should be developed by all levels of government as well as by communities. In addition toplanning for adequate evacuation routes, emergencyshelters, and emergency stockpiles of food, water andmedicines, efforts must be made to ensure redundant andreliable communication systems, as well as efficientoperating procedures in and reports originating fromdisaster-affected areas. Such critical infrastructure,facilities and communication systems can be developedusing ICT tools, including those that are space-based.Risk assessment maps, generated by geographicinformation systems, play a critical role in determining
3safe locations for emergency shelters and evacuationroutes. Disaster management systems and field reportingmechanisms are key tools for understanding andmanaging relief and recovery activities, including therelocation of people and the management of the logisticsfor food, fuel, water, medicines and other critical assets.This logistical information should also be linked to spatialinformation systems, enabling disaster managers tovisualize on a map the correlation of disaster damage andcasualties together with the available and neededfacilities and supplies. Another essential tool for disaster response is emergencycommunication. Emergency communication operatingprocedures and equipment must be established andmade available to various actors involved in disaster response. In an emergency situation, these actors musthave reliable and redundant communication channels, assome forms of telecommunications infrastructure may bedamaged by extreme disasters. Emergency communica-tion should consider such requirements as: (a) enablingthe relevant actors to continuously report from within thedisaster areas; and (b) maintaining their access toinformation sources, such as meteorological reports, at alltimes. Pre-established crisis situation centres should beequipped with crisis management systems to handle thecommand and control of rescue teams.
Challenges in the use of ICT for disaster risk reduction
Lack of data and information sharing.
The data andinformation needed for disaster risk reduction come froma wide variety of sources which often are not shared or integrated in a way that facilitates timely and accuratedecision-making in a disaster situation. This is further complicated due to the differences in standards used for data collection and classification within nationalboundaries, as well as between neighbouring countries inthe case of trans-boundary disasters, creating difficultieswhen users attempt to access and analyse data. Somecountries lack historical records about hazards and thequality of the data may vary. Frequently, historical data isnot available in an electronic format, and it lacks proper classification and descriptive information (metadata),which makes it difficult to compare data among regions.
Insufficient human and institutional capacity 
. Policymakersworking on disaster risk reduction may be aware of thepotential that ICT tools may hold for their work; however,there may be a lack of skilled staff to analyse andinterpret data for evidence-based policy- and decision-making. Also, national disaster risk reduction entities maylack the institutional arrangements that would enablethem to mobilize sufficient human and material resourcesto benefit from ICT, or to obtain such resources from other countries or institutions in the region through cooperationor assistance mechanisms.
Lack of connectivity and unreliability of telecommunicationnetworks
. The flow of information in an early warningsystem often originates from global or regional sources(for example, meteorological and seismic data), andneeds to reach, through a national centre, localauthorities and ultimately people in their communities.Therefore, it is critical that all the stakeholders in an earlywarning system have access to communication tools thatenable them to fulfil their role in a timely and cost-effective way.In the event of severe disasters, connectivity in manycountries fails. Moreover, developing countries,particularly the least developed countries and small islanddeveloping States, have frequent power outages andpossess unreliable telecommunications networks thatoffer only low connection speeds, both nationally andinternationally. Outdated or insufficient equipmentsupporting the telecommunications backbone as well asthe user terminals, such as television, radio and personalcomputers, contribute to this problem. These conditionsmay result in average citizens and emergency responseteams being incapable of receiving early warnings or achieving their objectives, if the communicationinfrastructure on which they depend is affected or rendered unavailable by a natural hazard or other reasons.
Policy recommendations
The successful implementation of ICT applications,including those that are space-based, for disaster riskreduction requires an enabling environment which fostersthe development of ICT infrastructure, capacities andinstitutional arrangements. Despite the increasingawareness and availability of resources for disaster riskreduction, and the affordability and reach of ICT topreviously unconnected communities, it would beunrealistic to expect everything to be put in place soon.In the meantime, it is important for developing countriesto leverage the available ICT resources and services,while prioritizing and planning the mainstreaming of ICTin plans, efforts and initiatives related to disaster riskreduction.The ESCAP secretariat recommends the following areasof policy intervention pertaining to the issues andchallenges raised above.
Information collection and sharing 
. National datacollection, standardization and sharing procedures andguidelines should be established for collectingenvironmental and social data that are needed for riskassessments, hazard monitoring and disaster forecasting.Data should be appropriately classified and made widelyavailable electronically for use by national andinternational stakeholders. To obtain urgent space-basedinformation for response and early relief activities,

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