A Ministry of Tourism (MOT), Health Protection Agency (HPA), and the Maldives Red Crescent Society (MRCS) concern was: why the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) did not notify other organizations during crises? Fare enough, MNDF and NDMC primary objective is assessing the situation, dispatching response resources, and mitigating the incident. During these first hours of the crisis they only activate the emergency first-responders through a notification. MOT, HPA, and MNDF might be secondary wave of dispatched responders. Asking NDMC and MNDF to notify all agencies, using the limited SMS, Fax, and Phones, might be inefficient and a distraction. Their main objective is controlling the threat.
SAMBRO Solves a Prevailing Alerting Gap
The dilemma of alerting all relevant institutions during a crisis, for situational-awareness, is a problem that SAMBRO is solving: “no organization or individual is forgotten with SAMBRO”. MOT says “if they were informed then they can determined whether or not to notify the resorts and tour operators, asking them to refrain from those areas and avoid confronting the situation.” HPA said, “If they were aware of the situation, then HPA could make a decision to alert the hospitals to prepare for emergency medical services and hospital triage.” Similarly, MRCS would alert their National and relevant Society Branches to be vigilant and observe the situation.
Facilitated by the NDMC, we are providing a common operating picture and a platform for all Maldives agencies to share their warnings with each other. A common criteria is that all Alerting Authorities, in Maldives, implement CAP. A Subscriber, such as MOT, HPA, and MRCS Emergency Operation Center (EOC) staff, would registers in SAMBRO, sharing their phone number and email address with the system. Now NDMC and MNDF would no longer be burdened with with alerting every entity that so desires to be notified. When an alert is published on SAMBRO the delivery mechanism will alert all Subscribers as well as provide an entry in the common operating picture.
Keeping it Simple with CAP
CAP allows for the single entry of a warning message to be disseminated through multiple channels: Short-Message-Service, Email, World Wide Web, Social Media (Twitter / Facebook), Really Simple Syndication, and File Transfer Protocol, for sharing alerts and warnings across all agencies. TV and Radio stations are the link to the last-mile communities and transient populations (e.g. passengers on boats). Digital Video Broadcast presents itself as means for alerting passenger vessels fitted with Television.
The authorized subscribers from various emergency management organizations can configure the subscription to receive alerts (i.e. any hazard event and hazard priority of choice). The MOT may subscribe to severe and catastrophic Fires, among others. MNDF or NDMC might issues a fire warning. Those Emergency Managers subscribing to the fire event would receive an alert through SMS, Email, and on the SAMBRO Mobile app. The alert content carries a web link, when clicked, would send them to a descriptive CAP message and the common operating picture.
Making the warnings/alerts CAP-enabled would allow them to, not only share warnings across Maldives agencies, but also make use of the various, free to use, Alert-hubs. The Federation of Internet Alerting, World Meteorological Organization, Google Public Alerts, Acccuweather, are some of the service providers hosting a hubs. They would assist Government Alerting Authorities with disseminating the warnings through the Alert Hub offered dissemination tools and services.
A User Story
Given the scale of the tourism industry, the MOT has taken a key interest in the safety of the guests. At present, they have implemented a SMS texting portal, using the commercial SMS portal offered by Diragu telecom operator. It offers an interface to manage recipients. These recipients are called focal points comprising managers at the island resorts and tour operator vessels.
The Dhiraagu Bulk SMS portal allows for select desired recipients to then entering a text message for dissemination. MOT is able to reach the 100+ recipients and receive a report indicating that 95% of the targeted recipients had received the alert under 2 minutes.
The 5% who might be tour operators out in the sea or phone that have travelled outside of Male who are simply not receiving the SMS because of the zero coverage. The SMS text on the left is MOT relaying a Maldives Meteorological Service (MMS) supplied Yellow Alert, where they would copy paste the MMS alert and add supplementary text relevant to the tour operators guest houses, and resorts.
The MMS is another Alerting Authority that uses the same Dhiraagu SMS portal, with a list of 100+ focal-points. This is one of MMS’s channels for disseminating weather and seismological warnings. Others are through Twitter, Facebook, and their Web. MMS is keen on upgrading their disseminations to with valid CAP messages and streaming them through RSS.
Advocating a Multi-stakeholder Approach
I was able to facilitate a meeting with the Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM). NDMC and MMS took the opportunity to present the prevailing challenges with communications. CAM realizing the importance of the ITU-T X.1303 recommended standard, has agreed to support NDMC and MMS. In their efforts, CAM will negotiate with the telecom operators to supply discounted bulk SMS packages to both parties. Moreover, during a Nation-wide crisis, CAM would request that the telecom operators disseminate SMS messages to the entire population, at no cost!
Multi-Stage Warning Relays and Nodes
The MMS initiated warning work flows vary for different hazard events. All seismological events that may be tsunamigenic are directly disseminated by MMS. There is no major threat from direct earthquakes other than tsunamis that can originate from the the Makaran Coast and Sumatra subduction zones. Meteorological severe weather brings havoc to Maldives.
MMS weather division does not issue Flood warnings. Instead they issue heavy rain, strong wind, and swell wave advisories and warnings. These events can instigate floods. Swell waves and strong winds (or storm surges) bring sea water on to the Island basin. Heavy rains are also a source for flooding the basins. Improper urban development also causes floods. That’s when the NDMC steps up the emergency level and issues a flood warning.
Environmental Impact Assessment practices, in the Maldives, is detached from Disaster Risk Reduction practices. There is no harmonization between the Ministry of Defence governed National Disaster Management and the Ministry of Environment governed EIA. That would be resolved, shortly, once the new bill is passed by the Parliament.
Need for Upstream Alerting
Whenever, NDMC receives reports from Atoll Councils of flooding, they issue a public flood warning. Given the diversity of the contributing factors, it is, nearly, impossible for MMS to develop any flood models for the 1,190+ Islands. Instead it is mostly incident reports from the Island and Atoll councils that are the eyes and ears for detecting and reporting the flood events.
It was easy to implement and operationalize these complex work-flows (minus the upstream reporting, of cause) with SAMBRO. We have simplified to such that when MMS issues a weather bulletin, NDMC would relay that to the local governments: Atoll and Island Councils. Those alerts activates them to be vigilant and monitor the situation. This is not the only event that saw the need for relaying warning messages through multiple nodes and links.
Increased Fire Events
The Maldivian Archipelago is seeing an increased number of fire events. Escaping from a fire, for the inhabitants on the small Islands, can be challenging. These fires range from residential fires to larger industrial fires to fires on vessels (boats). The workshop rehearsed an exercise involving a fire on Funadhoo Fuel Farm. The participants discussed the catastrophic fire that burned a 7000 square meter Male warehouse, down to the ground. Emergency first-responders were challenged with rescuing the trapped employees.
Another was a speed boat that caught fire forcing all passengers to jump into the sea until the MNDF Coast Guard rescued them. Yesterday, while we were eating dinner, our friends from NDMC started receiving alerts about a residential fire that partially burnt the home. It was in the heart of, congested, Male.
The Maldives NDMC is trying to unravel the mystery behind the recently escalation of fire related events. The Fire brigade, a division of the MNDF, is the responding agency responsible for mitigating the fire. NDMC is the mandated organization for the safety and well-being of the public, not just fires but for all-hazards.
The capitol Male, an older city, is extremely tightly knit buildings with very narrow roads; partly resulting from the continued influx of Maldivians seeking better facilities (education, health, etc). This has caused unplanned urban development. Comparatively, Hulhumale has made choices for better use of the reclaimed Island space.
NDMC and MNDF have a difficulty responding to any kind of emergency, in the traffic congested Male Island. Manoeuvring through the narrow roads, alleys, corridors, and stairwells can be a nightmare for emergency first-responders. Alerting the public in advance to clear those paths might help the emergency response organizations.
The Workshops and Training
The Maldives National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) hosted a National Training for selected Maldives emergency management stakeholders, 2016 June 01. It involved using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) version 1.2 compliant Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (SAMBRO). They learned how to publish and subscribe to warnings for enhanced situational-awareness for improving institutional responsiveness. Maldives Meteorological Service (MMS) and NDMC underwent an extended 3 day (29 – 31 May) training on CAP and SAMBRO procedures. This was an activity of the UNESCAP sponsored “CAP on a Map” project.