EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – March 23, 2005

Policy Issues in Early Warning Systems
Beyond the Technology

Dennis Kouba
DMK Communications in association with the
Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI)

Dr. Jack Harrald,
Director, Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management
George Washington University

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene Moore and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Today's topic is "Policy Issues in Early Warning: Beyond the Technology."

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today's speakers. First Dennis Kouba is with us once again on behalf of PERI to provide some further information on the upcoming online Symposium on today's topic. Dennis is the former Director of Outreach and Development for the Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI). He is now managing PERI Virtual Symposium Programs and communications services through his own firm, DMK Communications, located in Portland, Maine.

Dr. Jack Harrald is the Director of The George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management and a Professor of Engineering Management in the GWU School of Engineering and Applied Science where he coordinates graduate programs in crisis, emergency and risk management and homeland security emergency preparedness and response. He is a member of the National Academy of Science Disasters Roundtable Advisory Committee and has many more professional activities, too numerous to list here.

Please see the Background Page for further biographical information and links to related material. Welcome to you both, and thank you for joining us today. I now turn the floor over to Dennis to start us off.


Dennis Kouba: Thank you Amy. The complex issues involved in how to get to the point at which useful and effective early warning system are in place is the central theme of the next Virtual Symposium sponsored by the Public Entity Risk Institute – Early Warning Systems: Interdisciplinary Observations and Policies from a Local Government Perspective, which will take place April 18-22, 2005, and will be conducted in the Symposium Center on PERI's Web site (www.riskinstitute.org) and via e-mail. The PERI Symposium is being co-sponsored by The George Washington University's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management (ICDRM). The moderator for the PERI Symposium is Dr. Eelco Dykstra, who was recently appointed as a Visiting Professor in International Emergency management at the ICDRM.

The idea for this PERI Symposium was sparked by the tragic tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. Does that disaster point to lessons that should be heeded by local and national officials in the U.S.? Disaster and emergency management experts are mindful of the difficulty of putting early warning systems to effective and efficient use – there is a considerable distance to go before standardized technology, central coordination and notification, and local response achieve a balance that leads to a truly useful early warning system.

Dr. Dykstra has prepared a concept paper framing several critical issues involved in early warning systems. In his concept paper, Dr. Dykstra is inviting the submission of papers to be presented during the PERI Symposium. To read Dr. Dykstra's concept paper and call for papers, please go to the Symposium Papers page of the "Symposium Center" on PERI's Web site at: http://www.riskinstitute.org/test.php?pid=page&tid=17 or send an email request to me ([email protected]) and I'll forward it to you.

The paper looks first at the issues surrounding the technology of early warning systems, most notably the need to integrate functional requirements and technical specifications. He notes that an early warning system is really three systems integrated into one: surveillance (monitoring and detection), warning, and intervention. Dr. Dykstra also says that, "Early warning systems could be put to most effective and efficient use when included in an overall, all-hazard approach to disaster preparedness and anchored within structures and organizations that already exist to provide services to communities on a daily basis."

The paper addresses the policy side of using early warning systems by highlighting the need to find an often precarious balance between central coordination on the one hand, and early awareness and active participation by local communities on the other. Without this balance, any system or technology is doomed to fail. Dr. Dykstra also notes that there are many different interests and agencies involved in introducing a national early warning system within existing structures and organizations. Can often competing agencies come together to make an early warning system a reality? The paper notes that early involvement and active participation by local communities may make all the difference.

PERI invites EMFORUM participants to read Dr. Dykstra's paper and to consider submitting an Issues and Ideas Paper for the Symposium. We seek a wide-ranging discussion, and papers that challenge policymakers and emergency management leaders to really think about the state of warning systems in the U.S. Also, anyone interested in the topic of early warning systems can participate in the PERI Symposium at no charge by enrolling through the online enrollment form on PERI's Web site (http://www.riskinstitute.org). The program will include the presentation of daily Issues and Ideas Papers; an online, ongoing discussion; and other features. Please let your colleagues know about the program. Dr. Dykstra anticipates Issues and Ideas Papers from both the U.S. and international authors, with the papers addressing the local perspective on early warning systems.

In parallel with the PERI Symposium, the ISCRAM Group (International Systems for Crisis Response and Management) will be holding sessions on early warning systems during its 2nd international conference, April 18-20, in Brussels. ISCRAM Community members are researchers, scholars, teachers, students, practitioners and policy makers interested or actively involved in the subject of Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management. On Wednesday, April 20, the ISCRAM conference will feature a special symposium on early warning systems, with two keynote presentations and two special panel sessions. Dr. Harrald will be presenting a keynote address to open the ISCRAM conference on April 18. His topic will be "Supporting agility and discipline when preparing and responding to extreme events."

Now it is my pleasure to turn the floor over to Dr. Harrald.

Jack Harrald: Thanks Dennis. It is our pleasure at George Washington University’s Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management to co-sponsor the symposium with you in April.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has made a significant investment in improving its ability to respond to extreme events. Most federal agencies with preparedness and response roles were incorporated into the new Department of Homeland Security. In 2004, the National Response Plan (NRP) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) became the US doctrine and management system for organizing, mobilizing, integrating, and managing the complex, multi-organizational response necessary for responding to extreme events. This structure provides the discipline and framework necessary to build response capacity and capability and provides a basis for the design and development of technological support systems.

We know, however, that the key to response success is agility as well as discipline. The ability to improvise, create, and adapt in the face of unforeseen events and circumstances has been the key to successful response and recovery efforts (e.g. the response to the 9-11 attacks, response to the 2004 Florida hurricanes). The U.S. faces a critical challenge in preserving this agility, while it continues to develop its structure and doctrine.

Turning to the international arena, we see the opposite state of affairs. The international response to the December 26, 2004 tsunami shows that government and non-government organizations can be extremely agile and creative in responding to a disaster of historic proportions. The lack of discipline, however, was evident in the lack of coordination and communication, the ad hoc mobilization of resources, ineffective use of technology, and inability to integrate diverse organizations. Most of all, this lack of discipline and structure was evident in the inability to analyze and distribute information that a significant potential for a tsunami existed in time to save lives. The fact that thousands died hours after the tsunami was generated was a failure of inexcusable dimensions.

Technological solutions to problems observed in the reaction and response to this disaster (e.g. tsunami buoys, warning systems) are proposed by multiple individuals and organizations. However, without the discipline of structure and process it is highly unlikely that technology will be successfully developed and even less likely that it will be successfully deployed. Without significant public education and awareness, the technology will have minimum impact. As pointed out by Eelco Dykstra in the paper Dennis mentions, the creation of early warning technology systems is not enough.

We must also have the political will to create "monitoring, warning, and intervention systems that utilize existing structures and organizations". But it is hubris to think that effective warnings will result if only the responsible governments and international institutions can create the proper technology and organizations. Warnings are effective only if those that are warned adopt safety-seeking behavior. In other words, the receivers of warnings must understand the threat and must know of a viable vulnerability reducing strategy.

If you watched CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, March 19, you may have been struck by the story of the indigenous tribes on the Indian Ocean Andaman Islands that escaped the tsunami by either heading to higher ground or out to sea when the ocean receded from the shoreline as a pre-cursor to the series of tsunami waves. It wasn’t the well-educated tourists in Thailand or Sri Lanka that recognized and acted upon nature’s warning – it was people from a culture that received their knowledge of the tsunami threat from oral traditions. They recognized that something bad was about to happen and knew what to do to protect themselves. Government action and technological systems are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to reduce the tragic loss of life due to natural hazards. In the Indian Ocean, the society with the least technology and least government survived!

There is a critical need for international investment and leadership to form during this post-disaster period while people are paying attention and funding support is potentially available. The UN, the US, the EU, and NATO all have roles to play and responsibilities and much to gain by responding to this opportunity. Will they step up to this challenge? Allowing leaders to buy technology and to walk away from the larger organizational and social issues will be letting them off the hook too easily. If we are to save lives and avoid economic devastation, we must recognize that the Great Sumatra earthquake and Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004 was just one of many extreme events that could have occurred that day – and one of these events will certainly occur in the future. We must invest in the organizational systems and public education that will enable us to use our technology to be better prepared for the next event, whatever it may be.

Thank you for your attention, and I now turn the floor back over to our Moderator to get our discussion started.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Dennis and Jack.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Ben Green: Thank you, I couldn't agree more. Without public outreach & education, all the warning technology available is just so much stuff without substance.

Jack Harrald: I think this is the great, unresolved issue in DHS. We have concentrated on organizing the public sector.

Christopher Effgen: I think that the solution to the problem is going to be found in something other than the question that is being asked. What is needed is an independent organization. To develop and implement the tools of the digital age to mitigate all disasters, like everyone hoped Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) would do.

Jack Harrald: GDIN is a good example of inability to link technology to the broader community.

Ed Pearce: We are working regionally on private public partnership dealing with disasters and terrorism response. The public sector is still thinking in agency silos. Is this being addressed?

Jack Harrald: The NRP and NIMS specify linkages to the private sector and the community, but these are difficult to achieve, and not receiving the funding or priority needed.

Traci Hartmann: What do you believe the "first step" should be in the development of an effective emergency management program on the international level? There appear to be many cultural differences as to how these governments operate both within and outside their borders, especially in time of crisis.

Jack Harrald: I think the first step is an international agreement to coordinate resources. Currently there is minimal coordination between organizations and governments. Unfortunately, once an event occurs, there is more interest in responding (both to do good and to enhance images). We have to pay attention to this between disasters. It is difficult to get on the international agenda.

Burt Wallrich: In major urban centers in this country outreach is complicated by the fact that there are populations that seek to be invisible to government agencies, including undocumented immigrants, some homeless people, etc. It is essential to identify, train, and network the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work with those groups on a day-to-day basis so those NGOs can be a bridge between emergency management and the "invisible".

Jack Harrald: I agree with Burt's comments. The NGO's that deal with the routine social outreach are only minimally incorporated into disaster planning

Amy Sebring: Dennis, what do you plan to do with the results of the Symposium?

Dennis Kouba: Let me pass this question to Dr. Dykstra. Eelco?

Eelco Dykstra: What we would like to do, is jointly with the Europeans, produce a position paper with conclusions and recommendations.

What I wanted to add to the discussion is the following: In order to further streamline national and international cooperation as well as the public-private interface there may be two initiatives worth mentioning, and we will most likely have papers on these during the upcoming symposium. First, very recent is an international project called IGISS, Inter-Governmental Information Sharing Standards. This initiative includes the UN, the EU, NATO and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Second, GEOSS: Geographic Earth Observation System of Systems. They in fact have in their 10-year work plan an important segment "Outreach". We will have to wait and see what these efforts bring, but at least they are a beginning. Thank you.


Jack Harrald: A quick comment on the PERI-ICDRM symposium. I view this and the ISCRAM conference as an opportunity to identify members of the technology community that want and need to be more closely tied to the emergency management world. I think we in academia have an obligation to make this linkage. The goal is enhancing our preparedness, response and recovery with appropriate technology. As the GDIN experience has shown, we need to get beyond the technology.

Avagene Moore: Jack and/or Dennis, we all know how devastating the tsunami was and it is easy to sit back and discuss the shortfalls there. However groups like the Partnership for Public Warning (PPW) have tried to address the lack of and need for public warning in this country with little success (an announcement was made this week that the PPW is now defunct.) In your opinion, with all our talk and money spent on warning, are we better off than other parts of the world? If so, how? If not, why not?

Jack Harrald: In some ways we are, in others not, it is a mixed record. We have succeeded in issuing hurricane warnings for example, but public officials are in many cases over reacting and needlessly evacuating huge populations. With respect to the terrorism threat, the issue is more complex. We do not know how people will react to, for example, a warning to a biological attack. Some of our assumptions based on natural disaster experience may not hold.

Amy Sebring: What role does the media have in all of this? Dennis is there any outreach to that sector for the Symposium specifically?

Dennis Kouba: A good question, and one that I hadn't thought of for the Symposium. I will try to make some connections to see if this can be addressed.

Jack Harrald: There are examples of the media being a key to the warning process (e.g. hurricane Andrew), but in most cases the media is not prepared to act as a source of information to the public. By coincidence, we are having a media meeting tomorrow on this subject

Eelco Dykstra: I think that is a great idea for the symposium. Does anyone know a good, non-sensationalist, disaster journalist?

Burt Wallrich: There is a TV journalist in LA who is very good on disaster issues. He's made an effort to be well informed and non-sensationalist. I can get his contact info and send it to you.

Chris: The movie Dirty War gives public reaction very graphically and realistically. We're using it to help train our Law Enforcement

Isabel McCurdy: Are we relying on digital age TOO much? I just talked with a gentleman who did not have a TV and missed the 9-11 event. His first exposure to that attack was by a book he just had read at the library.

Jack Harrald: An extreme example, but we know that people get, and trust, information from very different sources.

Tim Frye: Dr. Harrald - you referenced a need to adopt safety-seeking behavior; How, as emergency response managers, at the local, state and national level, do we cultivate this behavior? More precisely, how do we train this behavior while improperly influencing some of it ourselves - with unnecessary evacuations, ill-timed warnings, etc.?

Jack Harrald: I wish I had a complete answer to this. I think that a major part of this is working with the media and with key community leaders and making it a priority. People naturally follow what they believe is safety seeking behavior when under stress or fear. How do they know what that behavior should be?

Ben Green: I recently returned from a summit on EAS from D.C. This was hosted by NASBA (National Association of Broadcast Associations) and jointly with the Federal DOJ. Although PPW is now defunct, the players are still here. NASBA has taken up the gauntlet and will continue to pursue this on a National level. There will be some meetings next month in Las Vegas at the NAB convention.

Jack Harrald: Great, and the National Communication System is alive and well within DHS.

Rick Patterson: Jack- I know we are discussing early warning systems on a global scale and the need for cooperation, but the greatest need for these systems is in Asia and the Indian Sub continent, but other than the U.N., I have not heard anything about the governments in this area being involved. Will there be involvement from the Asian countries in these papers or planning in the development and implementation of systems? This question is geared toward natural events.

Jack Harrald: Rick, I think there will be Asian involvement at the ISCRAM conference. Interesting that the primary interest has been European, mainly due to the high number of European casualties in Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Avagene Moore: Jack, I am very glad to see your emphasis on public education. I contend that people need the right life safety skills and be responsible for their own safety. I fear that most people think the government at whatever level will come in and save the day. Do you see any trends towards a substantive public education program in DHS? Is there anything we can do to make a little noise to drive this kind of effort to the local level?

Jack Harrald: Ava, I think the government can send the wrong message and foster a paternalistic view. In Washington it is easy to get the feeling that this is a government issue, and the focus on the community is not yet there. DHS EP&R is engaging in a major catastrophic incident planning initiative. We will see how much the community, the media and other stakeholders are involved.

Isabel McCurdy: I got this email asking who is this - blond haired little boy Tsunami survivor. People like me are wondering if he was identified. So it seems 'Follow-up' is a crucial aspect that needs to be addressed too.

Jack Harrald: I think part of the international coordination issue is to coordinate information and data after the event. It is a difficult issue. Data and information is collected locally, not integrated, and after a short period of time is lost.

Amy Sebring: I am glad that Eelco mentioned standards. It seems obvious that the technology needs to have international standards, but can international standards play a role in setting goals for local structures and public education do you think Jack?

Jack Harrald: Yes, both internationally and domestically. And along with standards comes the development of performance measures and other metrics.


Ben Green: We have been contacted by Thailand for examples of alert and warning here in California. And we have been working with Japan for several years. Thailand is now working with a California company on developing their system. Singapore also has a new system that was in place already with help from US contractors.


Amy Sebring: Let's wrap it up for today. Thank you very much Dennis and Jack for being with us today. Good luck with the Symposium Dennis and have a good trip to ISCRAM Jack.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Again, a transcript will be available later today. For our first-timers, we hope you enjoyed the session and will come again.

If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page and click on Subscribe.

We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Dennis and Jack for a fine job.