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 Google.org 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.

Born2Build is a group of enthusiastic 11year olds competing in a First LEGO League Robotics competition. The 2013 topic is “Nature’s Fury” – “children ages 9 to 16 from over 70 countries will explore the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams will discover what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.”


Description of their challenge (from Born2Build site):  One of the biggest challenges disaster relief teams face is finding and keeping track of people. When a natural disaster strikes, the rescue workers face many challenges. The landscape of the location can change. Access to the area may be limited. Also, the rescue workers may have a hard time figuring out where to go and deploy resources.The first hour after a disaster strikes is called the “golden hour”. The chances of surviving is highest during this hour. The three tools that we use are Sahana, Lidar and FINDER, a NASA heartbeat sensor. Sahana is a database made in Sri Lanka. A few years ago google interns made an improved version Sahana. Finder is an system that can find peoples heart rate , it can sense the slightest movement. Finder can find heartbeats up to 30 feet away and 20 feet under rubble. Lidar is a scanner that identifies the area before the natural disaster and then scans it after to see how the landscape has changed. We thought about helping all the relief workers in communicating with each other. In our solution we have combined NASA’s heartbeat sensor, Sahana Software and Lidar to make a system where when a person is found, an biometric scan is taken and the persons identity is fed into the system. This solution increases the chance of finding victims during the “Golden Hour”. Once the information is gathered our solution creates a quick way to notify the database of an person’s status after a natural disaster. We consulted with many sources. We met an architect named Vijay, who talked to us about how buildings are made to deal with natural disasters. We also went to a “Be Prepared” event in downtown Portland which informed us on disaster preparation. We visited an fire station and they showed us all their gear and vehicles and emergency communication devices.

The Geoinformatics Center (GIC), attached to the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) based in Thailand, invited the Sahana Software Foundation to conduct a 2 day SahanaCamp. The Sahana component of the awareness and capacity building workshop was part of a 3 week long course the Asian participants underwent at the AIT.  The SahanaCamp took place on December 16 and 17, 2014, at the GIC premises in AIT.

ait_jaxaThe Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Sentinel Asia initiative is collaborating with AIT with assisting Asian countries with disaster management efforts. One aspect is providing satellite imagery for hazard mapping for pre-disaster activities. Another is, following a disaster, JAXA provides a set of maps of the damage to AIT, who intern supply them to the affected country’s respective Government agency.


The workshop attendees at AIT were receiving disaster preparedness training on the use of GIS for National Hazard Mapping. On day one, the SahanaCamp complemented those activities by introducing them to the Community Resilience Mapping and Vulnerability Mapping tools with hands-on exercises that helped them realize how additional GIS layers such as census data and assets (e.g. buildings) data can be overstayed with the hazard maps to determine the communities level of risk.


The second day of the SahanaCamp exposed them to Sahana-based alerting/warning (i.e. Sahana CAP-enabled Alerting and Messaging Broker) and situational-reporting (i.e. Sahana Incident Reporting System) tools. The objective was to introduce need for hazard maps to define alerting boundaries that are different from political or national administrative boundaries. For example, if we are aware of the flood planes then when issuing a flood warning to that area one would ensure the warning is targeted to populations in and closely around that vulnerable area; opposed to issuing a province-wide or district-wide alert.

The exposure to the Sahana software tools and related exercises were followed by with the participants analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the various Sahana tools and the value of Sahana community of practice.There was a confusion among participants that Sahana Software Foundation would provide free services which it does during a crisis. They realized that they would need to build local capacity such as some software development capabilities. They do foresee opportunities and strengths that emerge from the Open Source Software and the diverse Community associated with the Software. The participants planned action to further explore the Sahana software and make efforts to introduce it to their organizations for further evaluation.

The participants are affiliated with to various government institutions in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. They are specifically associated with the JAXA Mini Projects for Sentinel Asia and SAFE.

communityThe Sahana ecosystem essentially comprise a community of practice; namely, the group of individuals sharing a common interest in investing their resources towards developing information systems for disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery phases. The power of the community of practice approach is one of the main reasons for the Philippines community was able to get Sahana community’s assistance to fulfil their humanitarian operations information sharing and publishing needs. Sahana members could be identified as “technology stewards.” (Terminology adopted from communities of practice theory.

SLIDES presented. – were predominantly focused how the community has developed an essential public good that has been used in several major catastrophes, across the globe, and continues to exist. Just alone in the Philippines there are three deployments of Sahana. There is potential for Sahana to do more in the Philippines with a local presence. Thereby, build capacity to improve local Sahana community to self sustain their deployments.

The workshop was hosted by Viettel and co-organized ITU ASP Centre of Excellence. The workshop took place in Hanoi, Vietnam, 28-29 November 2014. The audience were predominantly IT staff from various government agencies. The talks were mainly from foreign experts.


“Great hands-on experience of what you can do with Sahana eden … at the pre ISCRAM Vietnam conference workshop” – Julie Dugdale (VP – ISCRAM Association) -  excerpt from the ISCRAM Community post on Facebook.

The overall attitude of the participants towards the SahanaCamp @ ISCRAM-Vietnam was that it was an excellent opportunity and their opinion was that the objectives (listed in the evaluation) were met. However, they did express that a two day camp would have been for more effective with ample time to digest and get a better feel for the Sahana-Eden framework, opposed to rushing through it in a day.






It was a small group skewed toward a majority of them being technically quite competent. There were a few non-technical participants, in the sense they were not Python or web-technology software programers but engineers and academics with a computer science background.


The morning session gave the participants a feel for the various Sahana-Eden solutions with: community resilience mapping, vulnerability mapping, volunteer management, incident reporting, assessments, and news feeds. The exercise instructions are available here. In the afternoon, they got deep in to the code, with installing the Sahana-Eden software development package on their own laptops; then actually develop their own module, which got to being as fancy as adding a map to mark points/polygons and text-box/date controls with a localized Graphic User Interface.

Presentation slides:

  1. Introduction to Sahana-Eden
  2. Deploying Sahana-Eden
  3. Introduction to the code

Some outcomes:

The SahanaCamp ended with the lead NGO Resource Centre FOSS facilitator/Mozilla Localization Community Manager: Arky inviting us to the regular meeting of the Vietnam Disaster Management Work Group, the next day, to present Sahana and establish potential collaborations. Similarly, Rafael Saldana, Professor – Mathematics Department, Ateneo de Manila University, was keen in convincing a Filipino NGO or Civil society to adopt Sahana as well seek opportunities to hold a similar SahanaCamp in the Philippines very soon. Lutz Frommberger, Lead Researcher affiliated with the CapacityLab, belonging to the Universitat Bremen in Germany, was interested in evaluating Sahana-Eden to integrate with the Mobile4D project they are implementing in Laos.

tornado_shelterOften people are misconstrued by alert messages and act inappropriately because they have not fully understood the message; especially, when they are short-text messages with partial information. There are many challenges with cognition, or understanding, of public warning messages. UNESCO estimates, on average, 30% of South/West Asians and Sub-Saharan Africans to be illiterate. Those countries combined account for ~40% of the world’s population.

World Bank tourism statistics have estimated over 955 million departures over the past 4 years (2008-2012) and the numbers to rise to 1.6 billion per annum by 2020. Could a Chinese tourist in USA, or any other person alien to English for that matter, understand a rapid-onset Tornado warning text-message?

Studies show that every country in the world is home to more than one language; on average 6 languages, according to recent studies by Ethnologist. In most cases it is above 50, if we consider regions such as Europe, Asia, and Central Africa. Addressing alerts in each language is cumbersome. Although the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) content standard allows for carrying a message in multiple languages, delivering them in each language overwhelms the communications networks.

“Symbols in Alerting” was the basis of my talk at the 6th Common Alerting Protocol Implementation Workshop that took place in Geneva, Switzerland (23-25 April 2013). There were seventy participants (70) from thirty severn (37) countries representing and several International organizations, Sahana Software Foundation was one of them.


It is best to focus on “symbols in alerting for mobiles”. The challenges are in addressing all makes and brands. They typically vary between iOS, Android, Windows, Symbian, so on and so forth. The most effective way may be to host a small applet along with the pictograms in the mobile phone memory. Thereafter, trigger the appropriate pictogram using CAP message for display. A customizable generic applet can be developed. Cellular Operators can adopt the applet, then customize it for the country-context, based on the country CAP-profile. The customized applet can be deliver, over the air, to the subscribers. Thereafter, the subscriber could further customize as to which alerts they would like to see and at what threat levels. The symbol-based alerts on the mobile can be triggered using Cell-broadcast, SMS, or HTTPS (REST-ful) strings.

Symbols are indeed effective provided they carry both the hazard and the required response action. Colours and Numbers are a good way to present the priority (or the severity, certainty, and urgency) of the message. The common consensus of the workshop participants was that “symbols in alerting” is important and some initiatives must be exercised to research and develop a framework that is in in-line with the CAP standard. It may take time to understand the functional requirements, design parameters, and the process variables.

Recently, in Geneva, I met Massimo Cristaldi (CTO  Intelligence for Environment & Security – IES -  Solutions) at the CAP Implementation Workshop (23-25 April 2013). He mentioned, during a tea-break chat, that they evaluated the Sahana-Eden CAP Broker for possible adoption. Given that the Sahana-Eden CAP Broker was not fully developed, they default to building their own. Moreover, he was not at liberty to say whether or not they adopted parts or the existing version in their build; my hunch is that they did. This is an initiative driven by Italians for the European Union. I was thirlled to learn that the Sahana-Eden CAP Broker was, quietly, gaining some traction; especially, it being developed by students through GSOC and GCI programs.

IES developed “JIXEL” is a suite of web based application that allows emergency services (fire and rescue, ambulance, police, civil protection) to seamlessly exchange information during day-by-day operations and when managing catastrophic events and their aftermath. JIXEL adopts CAP as the interoperable content exchange protocol. In addition to the software products, JIXEL also focuses on hardware for rapid routing and sharing of crisis information.

Possibly, the Sahana Software Foundation’s EUROSHA project could find synergies in collaborating with IES Solutions in complementing their efforts by offering some of the available modules in managing European humanitarian crises.


GCI-GSOC Continuum

GCI-GSOC Continuum

The cycle continues as we look forward to GSOC 2013; already announced. Any interest or suggestions for GSOC-2013 in relation to the Sahana Eden CAP Broker? TALK TO US.

This is simply one of may Sahana modules/projects that continues to evolve through the contributions of GSOC and GCI student. My Sahana colleagues would agree. Thank you Google!

The International Telecommunications Union – Disaster (ITU-D) division recruited me to introduce ways in which the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) interoperable emergency communication standard could be operationalized in the Asia Pacific region. The audience comprised member state delegates from their respective telecommunications regulatory authorities and their emergency operations centres (or disaster management centres). The workshop: “Use of Telecomunications/ICT for Disaster Management” took place in Bangkok, Thailand; 20-23 December 2012.

The Sahana CAP- enabled Messaging Broker software was put in to practice to simulate both inter- jurisdictional (between agencies) and intra-jurisdictional (within the agency) as well as direct (from system to human recipient) and cascade (i.e. Agency-A send message to Agency-B’s system, then Agency-B alerts its subscribers) alerting procedures. Enforcing the standard through a software removes the perceived technical complexities; otherwise seen cumbersome for National emergency communication policy-makers to comprehend.

Following the hands-on exercises, the delegates engaged in a SWOT analysis to evaluate their experience with CAP and the CAP-enabled Sahana software; especially, considering the utility and adaptability if they were to  institutionalize it in their own country.

Clik here to read the ITU-D workshop session 8 CAP report

The slides: “Introduction to Operationalizing CAP

The final report that came out of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) Policy Workshop in Montreal quoted Sahana in it. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

How to notify and utilize citizen volunteers
Community volunteers [e.g. Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT)] are increasingly seen as valuable resources to respond in emergencies. New tools and channels may need to be used by alerting authorities to be able to include trained citizen volunteers in alerts sent to responders (see Sahana Software Foundation). Also, citizen volunteers can be utilized to rapidly gather information on the status of hazards and disasters as well as the resources needed

I addition to our work with CAP the Eden team has been working on the CERT module. Perhaps one area to explore is combining CERT messaging component with CAP as an underlying standard. As I take on the role of Chair of the Sahana Standards and Interoperability Committee, investigating such needs to interchange information with disparate systems and then contributing that knowledge to the OASIS Emergency Interoperability Technical Committee, which Sahana Software Foundation is now officially a member, shall become a priority.