Biplov Bhandari (Researcher and Sahana Developer @ AIT) and I (Nuwan) had the opportunity to present our Sahana work in Nepal. This was at the recently held 6th Mahotsav IT Festival hosted by the Gandaki College of Engineering and Science (GCES), in Pokhara, Nepal. The Honorable Minister of Information and Communications: Mr. Sherdan Rai inaugurated the event (MOIC).


The opportunity for us to engage in the event was made possible by our friends from the Internet Society Nepal Chapter (ISOC-Nepal). This interaction, in January 2016, served as a prelude to ISOC-Nepal’s intended Conference on “ICT use in Disasters” in March 2016. The Sahana Foundation is keen in running a more intense, possibly 3-4 day, SahanaCamp in conjunction with the conference.

During the opening session, on January 8th, I presented an overview of Sahana from my desk in Kunming, China, over a skype feed.  Half way through we were disrupted by a scheduled power cut. Load-shedding for 8-16 hours a day, during the Nepali winters, is common due to the shortage of hydro-power. Moreover, with the current fuel crisis, driven by Indian Politics aiming to squeeze the Nepali economy to get the Indian way with Nepalis, adds to the disaster. Nevertheless, the Minister, listening to half of my talk was keen that the Sahana Software Foundation meet with him during a subsequent visit, possibly in March.


On the second day (January 9th), Biplov conducted a half-day workshop, getting deeper into Sahana exposing the participants to deployments to-date, and showing them how the Sahana Eden framework responds to simple Web2Py code.

Biplov said – “Participant were excited to learn about existing features in Sahana. Most of them were techies so it was easy to get started. We started off by installing Sahana EDEN, playing with different templates and then actually started coding. The students were electrified to see the simplicity of Sahana Framework allowing them to make new modules, customizing the look-n-feel and integrating map for managing geospatial data. Some students also mentioned their interest to perform the final year project using Sahana EDEN.”


The event had ablend of Engineering students, Lecturers and Professional from IT fields in Nepal. A key objective that Biplov was focusing on was building interest among the audience to form groups of students who could regularly contribute to Sahana and then continue to pass on that trend to the junior student.

Our proposition to Nepal was the following agenda:

Sahana Software Foundation, along with its partner organizations, is dedicated to helping Nepal build bigger and better in its post earthquake initiative!

This year had many Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) message aggregation organizations present their stories in complementing the delivery of early warnings. Everyone is mostly interested in doing public warning. Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO) was the only solution that addressed Restricted and Private alerting in support of multi-agency situational-awareness., Meteoalarm, the Weather Company, Federation of Internet Alerting, AccuWeather, were some of the highlights. A common trait they all shared was demanding for more features (or information or capabilities) in CAP for effectively rendering and stylistically presenting the warning messages for the consumers; namely the public.

We also heard from Environmental Canada as to how they have taken on the responsibility of developing presentation layers for the rendering agents like TV, Radio, Web, etc; rather than relying on the rendering agents to develop their own. It is intuitive, because rendering agencies do not master in the knowledge of the Alerting Authorities. SAMBRO follows a similar doctrine. “The beauty of CAP is in its conciseness and consistency”, a fact that OASIS was stressing. Bending CAP data structure is not the solution but some ingenuity to deliver effective presentations is preferred.

8d-FloodThe CAP Implementation Workshop was hosted by the Istituto Superiore Antincendi (also known as the Italian Fire Corp Academy), in Rome, Italy, 22-24 September 2015. The workshop presentations are hosted online:  click to access all the workshop presentations. Besides the workshop, it was a delight to experience old and new Rome, a city that once was prone to major floods that is now resilient to such threats. 

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) has joined the co-host umprella of the CAP Implementation Workshop. The original co-hosts were the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Word Meteorological Organization (WMO); workshop website:  2015 Common Alerting Protocol Implementation Workshop

IFRC has developed a suite of Global Preparedness Center Mobile Apps. National societies can customize these apps. Not only to display and function in the National language but also to configure it to the country context. Those who know the history of Sahanaa are aware that the IFRC Resource Management System, adopted by societies worldwide, is a solution of Sahana Eden. The IFRC Emergency App (mobile app) is responsive to CAP feeds. The IFRC Resource Management System is equipped to issue alerts and receive incident reports. However, it is not CAP compliant. I was surprised to learn that the IFRC mobile apps were not integrated with the IFRC Resource Management System. I suppose it is different societies doing different things. Nevertheless, SAMBRO is building itself to serve as a CAP feed aggregator that can be integrated with those mobile apps.

Kenya has done a remarkable job with developing a matrix that relates the severity, certainty, and urgency with the impact and probability of the event. However, the matrix has some more working. The classification takes into consideration the time-to-impact, event type, and the intensity of the weather conditions. However, the impact is specific to the geographic location and the environmental conditions and not the severity of the hazard event. Other presenters stressed on the same; thus, emphasizing that CAP messages should carry the impact with an interest in warning people to be responsive.

sambro_functionsThe Italians area quite ahead of everyone else when it comes to adopting the Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) suite of standards. They have gone beyond EDXL-CAP to integrate EDXL-SITREP and EDXL-RM. They admit that CAP is easy compared to the other standards to implement. SAMBRO has the same vision. It envisions providing comprehensive solution that provides a solution starting from risk mapping to alerting to incident management and resource management. It was not just a Sahana vision but also a request that came from several SAMBRO adopters.

It is our mission to bring the CAP Implementation Workshop to Thailand. Thereby, we are able to alternate from hosting the workshop in the West (Americas and Europe) and the East (Asia). The 2014 workshop was in Sri Lanka. Hosting the 2016 event in Thailand would help promote CAP in the Asia Pacific Region.

Links to Final Report, Presentations, and List of Participants.

The final day of the Training of Master Trainers Workshop was primarily interactions with the CAP on a Map project UNESCAP Program Officer: Mr. Alf Blikberg. The participants had the opportunity to present their cases to him. The outline of their presentation discussed the current early warning practices in their country, their satisfaction/dissatisfaction on the training received, expectations complete system requirements, and the strengths/weaknesses of implementing SAMBRO. Project leads also presented a summary of the project overview and next steps.


The country presentations to ESCAP from the Trainees were diverse with each country presenting a different story. The three countries: Maldives, Myanmar, and Philippines believed that the SAMBRO implementation would improve their warning dissemination latencies with the single entry of a message disseminated warning messages through multiple channels to multiple personnel or organizations. These issues, identified during the information stocktaking activities of the project are discussed in the trip reports:

  1. Maldives workshop report
  2. Philippines workshop report
  3. Myanmar workshop report

They were also intrigued that SAMBRO could be customized to harmonize with their current work flow practices. These involve message authorization prior to diffusion; preparing a formatted PDF document of the alert message to be used as a paper trail; amending the message at various stages of the hazard event such as the rising, saturation, and receding of the flood waters. 

In the case of Myanmar and Philippines it would reduce the time to one minute. However, the Master Trainers were concerned of the effectiveness of SAMBRO give its dependency on the Internet. Alerting Authorities will need to access the centralized SAMBRO instance over the Internet to create, approve, and disseminate the warning messages. Another concern was on the ability to deliver messages to those outside the reach of commercial telecommunications services, like SMS, Email, and Web.

The Master Trainers  planned their implementation strategy; namely, implementing the Common Alerting Protocol and operationalizing the SAMBRO system. Their planned activities would begin with presenting the outcomes of the Training of Master Trainer program to their respective department heads. Thereafter, they organize an awareness workshop to discuss the training program, implementation goals, and operationalization strategy with the participating National organizations. They would agree on an implementation plan, including setting dates for the Training of National Trainers, to take place in the next 4 – 8 weeks.

The immediate national-level training will build capacity among the Alerting Authorities to develop their own hazard event specific templates, registering the alert recipients, and testing the alerting procedures. During the last two days of the Training of Master Trainer Workshop in Thailand, the participants developed their own training material reusing material from the workshop. Hey will use the self-developed material to train the fellow countrymen. We are looking forward for the training and implementation to complete over the coming months. Thereafter, the project will prepare to under go the evaluation phase with the controlled simulations.

You guys have put in a lot of thought in to the SAMBRO design“, a participant said.

SAMBRO Group at AIT Geoinformatics Center

SAMBRO Community of Practice (Trainees, Trainers, Othes) at AIT Geoinformatics Center with the King and Founder of Sahana Eden Software Platform

The first week of the Training of Trainer program had the participants learn about GIS and Sahana. They went further into learning about the tools and techniques associated with GIS, specifically intended for risk mapping. Thereafter, the participants got a flavor of the Sahana concepts, other deployments, how the engine works and getting their hands dirty with a few exercises. Part of it also involved testing the usability of the Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO).

By the end of the first week they experienced the SAMBRO GIS workflows designed for risk mapping and developing predefined alert areas. They also went through the SAMBRO CAP-enabled warning workflows with developing CAP message templates, creating alert messages, and publishing them on the Web and disseminating through SMS, Email, and RSS feeds. After a tiring first week the workshop wound down on a cheerful mood with a BBQ hosted by the Geoinformatics Center.


The second week began with the participants engaging in a design exercise. It was intended for them to self-realize the systems and procedures required in managing crises. The preliminary group exercise was listing a handful of hazards and the kind of information required, then mapping the hazard events to the kind of information required for situational-awareness. Then they listed the communication media they would use to exchange the information between emergency response organizations and the public. The three sets and the arcs between them formed a tripartite graph. The complexity was apparent with a multiple arcs incident on a handful of communication media.


Surprisingly traditional media: TV and Radio was the most popular with new media: Web, SMS, and Email taking second place. Intuitively broadcast media is most effective communicating with the public and new media effective with the emergency management organizations. Coordinating information between multiple agencies using multiple communication modes is cumbersome and the complexity grows exponentially. This is where the power of SAMBRO helps simply the information exchange complexity.

affinityThe next exercise was designed to realize the kind of functions that a SAMBRO system would require in serving the information flow for decision support in response to crisis. The groups took part in developing an affinity diagram. They began generating a wish list with the kind of features and functions they desired in this system. The notes were clustered in to five cliques. Risk analysis, alerting / warning, situational-reporting, resource management, and communications. WALAH … that is exactly the vision of the SAMBRO design. That is providing the tools and work flows that allow for situational-awareness and addressing the resource management.

Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO) continues to mature; especially with the Maldives, Myanmar, and Philippine implementations. Trainees from the three countries belonging to their Meteorological and Disaster Management Agencies are receiving training. They will receive training on GIS concepts, techniques, and tools required for developing predefined alert areas and training on administering, configuring, and implementing the CAP-enabled SAMBRO software. The training is part of the ‘CAP on a Map‘ project aiming to improve institutional responsiveness to coastal hazards.


The practitioners were trilled to be exposed to the internal engine of Sahana software and be given the opportunity write some code and develop a simple module. Except for one person, who is a Techie, all others have never written a single line of code to consider themselves as a programmer. The were excited wear the shoes of a programmer and seeing first hand the simplicity the Sahana framework is that allows them to build a simple module with a map for managing geo-spatial information.

Click to view the complete program

The training began on Monday August 31st and spans through until Friday September 11th. It was organized in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology Geoinformatics Center with funding made possible through UNESCAP  Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster, and Climate Preparedness.. The workshop aims to:

1. Train and certify a set of Master Trainers: with an overview on Geographic Information System (GIS) essentials for enabling country context data for risk mapping, Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO) administrative, implementation, and operational procedures, Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) content standard and operating procedures

2. Develop capacity among the Master Trainers for: collaborating with their National Agencies for developing risk mapping advocated predefined alert areas for impact-based alerting, building Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) capacity within their country for implementing CAP procedures, implementing the CAP-enabled SAMBRO for improving multi-agency situational-awareness and all-hazard all-media warning capabilities

Two weeks after the ‘CAP on a Map‘ project kick-off workshop, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology got busy responding to the massive floods –

mm_flood_blogHeavy seasonal rains caused flooding in Rakhine State and other parts of the country at the end of June. At the beginning of July, the Relief and Resettlement Department (RRD) in Nay Pyi Taw reported that close to 14,800 people had been affected by floods throughout the country, with over 13,000 of those affected in Rakhine State.” – Reliefweb Report, Myanmar: Floods and Landslide, June 2015.

The Nation continues to battle with hazard events caused by severe weather events originating from the western Bay of Bengal and the northeastern Chinese Mountains. The CAP on a Map project is designed to improve the institutional responsiveness to all-hazards. The project will train Myanmar alerting and emergency management authorities on the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) interoperable content standard and the Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO). The kick-off workshop, that was hosted by DMH at their premises, 15 June 2015, was to introduce the concepts and determine the participating Organizations.



As part of the information stocktaking activity, AIT and SSF team members traveled to Tatkon, approximately 65 Km from the Naypyitaw capitol city. We observed many farming community to be sparsely scattered and to be disconnected from the main electric power grid. They use oil lamps and some have small solar panels (5 bulb systems).  DMH replies on TV and Radio to warn the public of severe weather events and provide situational reports. However, none of them without main grid consistent power would be able to operate a Television set.

Workshop participants also echoed the challenges with the coverage of electricity and its unreliability. A radio powered by batteries is the only alternative to receiving weather bulletins and special weather broadcasts from the Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV). Relatively low powered mobile phones present to be a lucrative and inclusive solution to complement MRTV. LIRNEasia finds show 99% of the representative survey sample to carry a mobile phone.

Telecommunications are not yet or very little is adopted in pubic alerting. Telecommunications Service Providers (TSPs) would bill DMH for using their services such as with disseminating Short Message Service (SMS) or Cell Broadcast (CB) text-messages. A recommendation was for DMH to request, as part of a National policy in support of the emergency communications plan and licensing agreement or as part of the TSP Corporate Social Responsibilty, to provide a limited quantity of bulk SMS and possibly CB facilities for disseminating timely warnings.

Participants engaged in several group exercises. These discussions revealed language and digital literacy to be weak factors that would require special attention. People can read and write but lack knowledge in interpreting warning messages or scientific terminology. SAMBRO, with the underlying CAP standard and procedures, would address all those factors. CAP is designed for all-hazard all-media dissemination with a structure to accommodate multiple languages. Moreover, it removes ambiguity with consistent and complete messages that would provide instructions for laymen to understand.

blog_01The Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Philippines Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOLCS), and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) are three agencies of foremost importance. Combined they are responsible for the monitoring, detecting, and warning of key natural hazards that continue to threaten and impact the Archipelago. On average, the Islands are exposed to 20 Typhoons each year; making PAGASA a very busy agency. The ocean fault lines are almost an arms reach away that gives PHILVOLCS less than a 20-30 minutes tsunami warning horizon.

We came to learn of these fact during the ‘CAP on a Map‘ kick-off workshop. It was held at the Amihan Conference Room, at PAGASA, in Quezon City – Manila. Workshop participants represented a mix of organizations belonging to hazard detection/monitoring, alerting authorities, first-responder agencies and TV broadcasters. They participated in a few exercises intended to discuss the state of sharing alerts and warnings. PAGASA is one step a head with implementing CAP. They have worked with Google Crisis Response to publish CAP messages for public dissemination.

The Cap on a Map project, made possible through funding from UNESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness, will expand on the previous efforts to introduced all-hazard all-media and multi-agency situational-awareness approach. The workshop discussions also revealed that Filipinos are a mobile app culture with various risk information sharing apps. All of these findings are discussed in the report.


PAGASA_workshop_10 Discussions with the Philippines Disaster Recover Foundation (PDRF) realized the need to think of public utilities as an important partners who should be intertwined with the situational-awareness. Gas pipe explosion was a scenario discussed during one of the workshop group exercise. Water and Electricity is privatized in the Philippines; same as Telecommunications. Involving all public and private stakeholders in the design and roll-out is critical to operationalizing a functional early warning system.

At the outset the project is partnering with the PAGASA to pave the way in implementing the project in the Philippines. The implementation would deploy the SAMBRO Multi Agency Situational Awareness (MASA) platform. It is intended to improve the situational-awareness for the disaster and emergency management agencies. The knowledge mobilized through the MASA software would enhance the coordination of the response to various hazard events and incidents. CAP is the supporting piece that fosters interoperability enabling the exchange of all-hazard alert/warning with multiple agencies and the public using all available media channels. As we move forward, with the design and implementation, we will be exercising a participatory community centric approach involving all relevant institutions and administrative strata.

Maldives Villingilli Island

Maldives Villingilli Island

A workshop and set of meetings (April 15 & 16, 2015) took place in the capitol city Male in the Maldives. It was an event of the CAP on a Map kickoff in the Maldives. The project aims to improve the institutional responsiveness to all-hazards. The workshop and meeting, serving as a platform to initiate the project in the Maldives, was organized by the project counterpart the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) of the Government of Maldives.


An important expectation of the workshop was to convince the existing disaster management technical committee of the emergency coordination efficiency gains and incremental effectiveness the project, once implemented, would offer. A large number of the technical committee members were present at the workshop. They agreed to serve as the CAP working group, with oversight and support the CAP-enabled Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO) implementation. The report outlines six points the the technical committee should support and lobby for establish a platform for Multi Agency Situational Awareness.

The Island country is frequently challenged with windstorms, wave swells, floods, water outage, earthquakes and maritime accidents. Tsunami and Cyclones are less frequent but possess great threats. The maritime vessels are mandated to be equipped with VHF communications. However, some private smaller boats rely on cellular phones. Island are interconnected to optimize on network downtime. However, there are many shadow areas that require alternate satellite based communications.

Maldives Meteorological Services Meeting with Officials

Maldives Meteorological Services Meeting with Officials

Two meetings followed the workshop on the second day. First was with NDMC (Honourable State Minister Mr. Mohamed Zuhair, Honourable Deputy Minister Mrs. Fathimath Thasneem, and Project Director: Mr. Hisan Hassan) . Second was with the Maldives Meteorological Service (MMS) officials. The two main organizations: NDMC and MMS agreed to support the CAP-enabled SAMBRO implementation. They are interested in the efficiency gains with interoperability and automating alerting/warning. At present MMS incorporates several modes of communication involving telephone calls and text-messaging. Other authorities such as the Maldives Disaster Response Force (MDRF) use VHF radios along with mobile phones. All which can be integrated for disseminating the single entry of a CAP message to multiple agencies and recipients.

Participants, during a SWOT analysis of implementing CAP on a Map project, recognized the importance of Sahana software being open source and customizable serving emergency coordination. They had misinterpreted that Sahana system interdependent on the Internet. A Sahana installation on a laptop directly connected to a GSM modem disseminating SMS, is an example of a non-Internet dependent solution. It is important that NDMC, possibly in consultation with Communications Authority of Maldives and Ministry of Broadcast, determine the necessary and sufficient technologies to cover all Atolls and Island. Other discussions were on the needs for of building institutional capacity. The software will offer agencies with a common operating picture to coordinate and respond to any emergency by exchanging near-real-time CAP feeds.


Image taken from the Timore Leste Disaster Risk MIS:

Image taken from the Timor Leste Disaster Risk MIS:

Under a well-developed disaster management system, the Disaster Management Organization of a Country should be aware of and should map every significant emergency incident or risk in the country. Disseminating such information among multiple agencies with disparate systems can be complicated. Multi-Agency Situational-Awareness (MASA) platforms facilitate the integration of silo-ed Organizations and dilutes inter-agency rivalry at every level of a National warning and incident management system. Such a platform that incorporates the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard is far more likely to interoperate with National and International warning systems. Moreover, the CAP content standard lays out emergency policies and procedures for streamlined information sharing among multiple agencies.

escap_ssf_ait_logosThe aforesaid concept: CAP-on-a-Map was one of the winning proposals that received funding from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); specifically from the UNESCAP  Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster, and Climate Preparedness. The Sahana Software Foundation (SSF) teamed with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Geoinformatics Centre in pitching the proposal. The two organizations will complement each other with a combined set of expertise involving remote sensing, risk assessment, emergency communication, webGIS, and open source software. This is a stepping stone pilot that will build a program to offer countries in the Asia and the Pacific region (but not limited to) with software and procedures to manage their MASA practices.

Organizations participating in implementing CAP

Organizations participating in implementing CAP

At this pilot stage, this project will implement and evaluate a customized Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (abbreviated as SAMBRO) to serve the Maldives and the Philippines in managing their MASA practices. AIT and SSF are project co-leads responsible for achieving the proposed goals and objectives. The World Meteorological Organization Public Weather Services (WMO) will be a key adviser to the project, specifically with the implementation of CAP and incorporating the WMO advocated Register of Alerting Authorities. The Philippines Department of Science Technology and the Maldives National Disaster Management Centre are National counterparts leading the implementation, in collaboration with in-line agencies, in their respective countries. AidIQ, AIT Consulting (AITC), and Spot On Solutions (Spot-On) will provide technical assistance.


Activities and Milestones

Over the next 18 months (1st Jan 2015 to 30th Jun 2016) the project will collaborate with the various partners achieving the milestones. They mainly comprise understanding the current state of the warning mechanisms, then training a set of trainers to build National capacity to operationalize the Sahana software-enhanced MASA, run mock-drills to evaluate the interventsion, and finally, share the knowledge with disaster management researchers and practitioners.


High level technical diagram for mobile pictograph alerting

High level technical diagram for mobile pictograph alerting

Almost one year ago, I had presented a concept on the use of “pictographs in alerting” and shared the evidence for the growing need for such an initiative. This was at the 2013 CAP Implementation Workshop in Geneva. The real need was to aid the linguistically challenged: tourist in a foreign country and illiterate. Moreover, it would remove the need to for messaging in multiple languages; especially in countries that are home to a multitude of races and languages.

Although the design was prescribed for mobile phones, given it’s worldwide penetration over PCs, it does not differentiate between internet (data) or voice (SMS, Cell-broadcast) channels, it is adaptive. The idea is to use predefined EDXL-CAP elements to trigger the appropriate message. The message would indicate the urgency, severity, certainty, and event. However, the entire message is based on a set of logic determined by a larger set of EDXL-CAP elements.

The Federation of Internet Alerts (FIA) is a newly formed consortium that is collectively addressing those risk information presentation issues.  They are namely a group of public and private partners with a strong business inclination towards adverting. While was one of the pioneers to work with alerts in the advertising space, others such as ValueClick are also contributing to the initiative. They all have good intentions, namely with opening up their resources to alerting authorities to disseminate warnings.

FIA is currently in the process of standardizing how an alert message should be presented to an audience. Although CAP is a content standard, it does not address how the information should be presented. As my colleague: Eliot Christian (Special Scientific Adviser to WMO), authoring the standardization guidelines, states: “the need for FIA messaging guidelines in the presentation of public warnings arises because different online media will be presenting warnings across overlapping audiences. That means people online could receive inconsistent presentations of warnings for the same event. Inconsistent presentation of warnings can be confusing, and confusion is dangerous in life-threatening situations.” I am currently reviewing their first paper on the guidelines.