Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: A Checklist

Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: A Checklist


Early warning is a major element of disaster risk reduction. It can prevent loss of life and reduces the economic and material impacts of hazardous events including disasters. To be effective, early warning systems need to actively involve the people and communities at risk from a range of hazards, facilitate public education on and awareness of risks, effectively disseminate messages and warnings and ensure there is a constant state of preparedness.

*This is an adapted excerpt from a publication currently in preparation by a network of United Nations agencies involved in early warnings of natural hazards

Early warning systems are integrated systems of hazard monitoring, forecasting and prediction, disaster risk assessment, communication and preparedness activities and processes that enable individuals, communities, governments, businesses and others to take timely action to reduce disaster risks in advance of hazardous events. As multi-hazard early warning systems they address a range of hazards, vulnerabilities, exposures, capacities and impacts of similar or different type in contexts where hazardous events may occur alone, simultaneously, in a cascadingly or cumulatively over time, and taking into account the potential interrelated effects. A multi-hazard early warning system with the ability to warn of one or more hazards increases the efficiency and consistency of warnings through coordinated and compatible mechanisms and capacities, involving multiple disciplines for updated and accurate hazards identification and monitoring for multiple hazards.

The Checklist: Four Elements

Disaster Risk Knowledge

Risks arise from the combination of hazards, exposure of people and assets to the hazards and their vulnerabilities and coping capacities at a particular location. Assessments of these risks require systematic collection and analysis of data and should consider the dynamics and compounding impacts of hazards coupled with vulnerabilities that arise from processes such as unplanned urbanization, rural land-use change, environmental degradation and climate change.

Detection, Monitoring, Analysis & Forecasting of Hazards and Possible Consequences

Continuous monitoring of hazard parameters and their precursors (when available for a particular hazard) is essential to generate accurate warnings in a timely fashion that allows sufficient time for the affected community or communities to enact their disaster management plans appropriate for that hazard. The systems used for detection and monitoring, which could be automated, should allow for strict quality control of the data under international standards when these are available.

Warning Dissemination and Communication

Warnings must reach those at risk. Clear messages containing simple, useful and usable information are critical to enable proper preparedness and response that will help safeguard lives and livelihoods by organizations and communities. Trust is a big part of effective risk communication. If the information source cannot be trusted, real communication is impossible—and it takes a long time to establish trust. Regional, national and local level communication systems must be pre-identified and appropriate authoritative voices established.

Preparedness and Response Capabilities

It is essential that people understand their risks; respect the national warning service and understand how to react to the warning messages. Education and preparedness programmes play a key role. It is also essential that disaster management plans are in place, well-practiced and tested. People should be well informed on options for safe behaviour to reduce risks and protect their health, know available escape routes, and how best to avoid damage and loss to property.