Warning Dissemination and Communication

Warning Dissemination and Communication

Communication and dissemination systems (including the development of last-mile connectivity) ensuring people and communities receive warnings in advance of impending hazard events, and facilitating national and regional coordination and information exchange

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. The use of multiple communication channels is necessary to ensure as many people as possible are warned, to avoid failure of any one channel, and to reinforce the warning message.

There are numerous standards and protocols used by alerting authorities to transmit warnings. The Common Alerting Protocol is an international standard format for emergency alerting and public warning, developed by the International Telecommunication Union and promoted by a number of agencies. It is designed for “all-hazards”, that is, hazards related to weather events, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, public health, power outages, and many other emergencies.


Key Actors

National and local disaster management agencies; scientific and technical agencies such as meteorological and hydrological organizations, health authorities and geophysical agencies; military and civil authorities; telecommunication organizations (e.g. national telecommunication regulators, satellite and mobile-cellular network operators), media organizations (e.g. television, radio and social media) and amateur radio; businesses in vulnerable sectors (e.g. tourism, care facilities for older people, marine vessels); community-based and grassroots organizations; international and United Nations agencies.

The Checklist

1. Are organizational and decision-making processes in place and operational?

  • Functions, roles and responsibilities of each actor in the warning dissemination process enforced through government policy or legislation at all levels and included in the standard operating procedures
  • Warning communication strategies at the national, subnational and local levels in place that ensure coordination across warning issuers and dissemination channels
  • Regular coordination, planning and review meetings between the warning issuers, the media and other stakeholders
  • Professional and volunteer networks established to receive and disseminate warnings widely
  • Feedback mechanisms in place to verify that warnings have been received and to correct potential failures in dissemination and communication
  • Mechanisms to update the information are in place and are resilient to the event

2. Are communication systems and equipment in place and operational?

  • Trust between stakeholders established
  • Communication and dissemination systems tailored to the different needs of specific groups (urban and rural populations, women and men, older people and youth, people with disabilities, etc.)
  • Understanding of last-mile connectivity to know which population groups can be reached by different services, including mobile-cellular, satellite and radio services
  • Warning communication and dissemination systems reach the entire population, including seasonal populations and those in remote locations, through multiple communication channels (e.g. satellite and mobile-cellular networks, social media, flags, sirens, bells, public address systems, door-to-door visits, community meetings)
  • Communication strategies evaluated to ensure messages are reaching the population
  • Agreements developed to utilize private sector resources where appropriate (e.g. mobile-cellular, satellite, television, radio broadcasting, amateur radio, social media) to disseminate warnings
  • Equipment maintained and upgraded to utilize new technologies (when appropriate) to ensure interoperability
  • Backup systems and processes in place in the event of failure
  • Resilience of communication channels and early warning system hardware evaluated in advance to reduce the impact of events on the infrastructure
  • Coverage of communication channels and multiple-channel systems assessed to identify gaps and possible points of failure that may increase vulnerability

3. Are impact-based early warnings communicated effectively to prompt action by target groups?

  • Warning messages provide clear guidance to trigger reactions (e.g. evacuation)
  • In the case of events with a short time-frame for reaction (e.g. earthquake early warning), automated systems should be in place to mitigate impacts (e.g. automatic stop of transport, activation of red lights in tunnels, stopping elevators on the closest floor, opening of fire-truck gates, etc.)
  • Early warnings should take into account the different risks and needs of subpopulations, including differential vulnerabilities (urban and rural, women and men, older people and youth, people with disabilities, etc.)
  • Public and other stakeholders are aware of which authorities issue the warnings and trust their message

Linkages with Other Elements

Understanding the risk profile of the country provides critical information for the other multi-hazard early warning system elements, namely:

  • Risk knowledge: Information is required on weaknesses and strengths of communication channels and on early warning system hardware resilience.
  • Detection, monitoring, analysis and forecasting: Agreements and interagency protocols are required to ensure authoritativeness and consistency of warning language and coherence of communication responsibilities for each hazard. Cross-border exchange of warnings and observation data should be conducted.

Preparedness and response capabilities: Inclusion of communication channels and protocols in disaster preparedness and response plans. Protocols established to reach emergency and health services that need to be ready to respond to events promptly.