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 reduce 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 and awareness of risks, disseminate messages and warnings efficiently and ensure that there is a constant state of preparedness and that early action is enabled.

*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

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 – the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters – recognizes the benefits of multi-hazard early warnings systems and enshrines them in one of its seven global targets: “Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to people by 2030”.

The Sendai Framework urges a paradigm shift in the way risk information is developed, assessed and utilized in multi-hazard early warning systems, disaster risk reduction strategies and government policies. It states “in order to reduce disaster risk, there is a need to address existing challenges and prepare for future ones by focusing on monitoring, assessing and understanding disaster risk and sharing such information and on how it is created; strengthening disaster risk governance and coordination across relevant institutions and sectors and the full and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders at appropriate levels”. The Framework aims to achieve “the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries”.

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 resulting from unplanned urbanization, changes in rural land use, environmental degradation and climate change. The level of risk can change depending on the actual impacts and consequences of hazards.

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 allow 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 by organizations and communities that will help safeguard lives and livelihoods. Trust is a big part of effective risk communication. If the information source cannot be trusted, those at risk may not respond proactively to the warnings – and it takes a long time to establish trust. Regional, national and local 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 know how to react to the warning messages. Education and preparedness programmes play a key role. It is also essential that disaster management plans include evacuation strategies that are well practiced and tested. People should be well informed on options for safe behaviour to reduce risks and protect their health, know available evacuation routes and safe areas and know how best to avoid damage to and loss of property.