Good practices for multi-hazard Early Warning Systems (EWS)

WMO has developed a book which will be published in late 2011 by Springer-Verlag entitled, Institutional Partnership in Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: A compilation of seven national good practices and guiding principles.

It features cases from Bangladesh, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Japan and the United States of America, building on the expertise of WMO Members, UN and international partners and relevant national ministries. The book makes the case for greater integration of early warning systems in planning at all levels of society, building on lessons learned through international efforts.

Maryam Golnaraghi, WMO Chief of the Disaster Risk Reduction Programme, shares her insights based on developing the book.

Q. Are early warning systems having a greater impact in saving lives due to weather-related hazards?

A. Absolutely. Over the last five decades, economic losses have increased, but there has been a decrease in loss of life associated with hydrometeorological hazards. This success has been attributed to effective early warning systems, based on advancements in monitoring and forecasting of weather-related hazards, combined with effective communication and emergency preparedness at national and local levels in several countries with a history of high-impact weather-related hazards. The graph below outlines this trend very clearly.

Natural Hazard impact trends
Natural hazard impact trends

Q. How are multi-hazard warning systems perceived internationally, and what have been the implications for national development of these systems?

A. Over the past decade, the international community has paid significant attention to early warning systems. Ten years after the adoption of the Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World: Guidelines for Natural Disaster Prevention, Preparedness and Mitigation (1994), in January 2005, just few weeks after the December 2004 tragic Indian Ocean tsunami, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction convened the Second World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. During this conference, the “Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters” was negotiated and adopted by 168 countries.

These international efforts have helped with shifting the paradigm for disaster risk management from post disaster response to a more comprehensive approach encompassing prevention and preparedness measures. The second high-priority area of the Hyogo declaration stresses the need for “identifying, assessing and monitoring disaster risks and enhancing early warning.” It notes that early warning systems must be an integral component of any nation’s disaster risk management strategy, enabling national governments and local communities to build community resilience before disasters strike.

Q. What makes an early warning system effective ?

A. Effective early warning systems are considered within a holistic approach and are comprised of four operational components.

  • Hazards are detected, monitored, forecast, and hazard warnings are developed;
  • Risks are analysed and this information is incorporated in warning messages;
  • Warnings are issued (by a designated authoritative source) and disseminated in a timely fashion to authorities and public at risk;
  • Community-based emergency plans are activated in response to warnings to reduce impact on lives and livelihoods.

For the system to be effective, these four components need to be coordinated across many agencies at national to community levels. Failure in one component or lack of coordination across them leads to failure of the whole system. Warning is a national responsibility. Thus, roles and responsibilities of various public- and private-sector stakeholders within the system must be reflected in the national to local regulatory frameworks, planning, budgetary, coordination and operational mechanisms.

Q. Taking these operational pre-requisities into account, what steps have been taken to improve coordination for early warning systems?

A. The trend has continued to build stronger coordination in various ways. There is now a greater emphasis on multi-hazard early warning systems. There is also continuing momentum to integrate early warning in a variety of sectors. Furthermore, as the responsibilities for emergency preparedness and response have been decentralized and shifted to local levels, it is important that there is alignment in the policies, planning, coordination, budgetary and operational mechanisms at national to local levels.

In 2006, the Global Survey of Early Warning Systems and the outcomes from the Third International Early Warning Conference concluded that early warning systems must be developed with a multi-hazard and multi-sectoral approach. Moreover, though progress had been made, remaining challenges needed to be addressed to better integrate early warning systems in disaster risk reduction strategies in all countries, particularly those with the least resources. The 2006 Global Early Warning Survey Report cited challenges in legislative, financial, organizational, technical, operational, training and capacity building sectors. In addition, the early warning system assessment carried out by WMO in collaboration with 18 other United Nations agencies, as input to the 2009 UN-ISDR Global Assessment Report on Disaster Reduction, indicated similar results.

It became clear that governments at national to local levels and various agencies could benefit from experiences of other governments that had successfully implemented effective early warning systems. Participants in many international forums voiced a need to document good practices and engage national agencies and authorities to share practical cases, lessons learned and principles that led to their success.

Q. What role has WMO played in documenting early warning systems?

A. In 2007, the 15th World Meteorological Congress requested that WMO document good practices, in partnership with its Member States and UN partners. WMO cooperated with other UN and international partners as well as its Members through consultations with experts involved in national and local components of early warning systems, by conducting two international symposiums and several regional and national events. Through these consultations, WMO developed a systematic process to document good practices, including criteria for and examples of good practices around the world.

The two primary assumptions that guided this work were that protection of citizens’ lives is a key responsibility of the government from national to local levels, and that issuing authoritative warnings is a national responsibility. A detailed template to document good practices was developed through a consultation process that has engaged leading experts in early warning systems, providing guidelines for systematic documentation of the various aspects of early warning systems within a holistic point of view.

Q. Which cases have you developed?

A. Good practices have been documented in seven early warning systems for meteorological and hydrological hazards. These include the Bangladesh Cyclone Preparedness Programme; the Cuba Tropical Cyclone Early Warning System; the French ‘Vigilance’ System; the Warning Management of the Deutscher Wetterdienst; the Multi-Hazard Early Warning System in Japan; the Multi-Hazard Early Warning System of the United States National Weather Service; and the Shanghai Multi-Hazard Emergency Preparedness Programme, an example of good practice for megacities.

Q. Have common success factors emerged in your analysis of the cases?

A. We found ten common principles that have led to the success of these systems, irrespective of the political, social, institutional, and economic factors in each country.

  1. Political recognition. There is a strong political recognition of the benefits of early warning systems, reflected in harmonized national and local disaster risk management policies, planning, legislation and budgeting.
  2. Common operational components. Each effective system is built upon four components: hazard detection, monitoring and forecasting; risk analysis and incorporation of risk information in emergency planning and warnings; dissemination of timely and authoritative warnings; and community planning and preparedness with the ability to activate emergency plans to prepare and respond, coordinated across agencies at national to local levels.
  3. Role clarification. Stakeholders are identified, their roles and responsibilities and coordination mechanisms are clearly defined and then they are documented within national and local plans, legislation, directives and memoranda of under¬standing, including those of technical agencies such as National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.
  4. Resource allocation. EWS capacities are supported by adequate resources (human, financial, equipment, etc.) across national and local levels, and the system is designed and implemented for long-term sustainability.
  5. Risk assessment. Hazard, exposure and vulnerability information are used to carry out risk assessments at different levels, as criti¬cal input into emergency planning and development of warning messages.
  6. Appropriate warnings. Warning messages are: clear, consistent and include risk information; designed to link threat levels to emergency preparedness and response actions (using colour, flags, etc.); understood by authorities and the population; and issued from a single (or unified), recognized and authoritative source.
  7. Timely dissemination. Warning dissemination mechanisms are able to reach the authorities, other stakeholders and the population at risk in a timely and reliable fashion.
  8. Integration into response planning. Emergency response plans are developed with considera¬tion for hazard/risk levels, characteristics of the exposed communities (urban, rural, ethnic populations, tourists and particularly vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and the hospitalized), coordination mechanisms and various stakeholders.
  9. Integration in relevant educational programmes. Training in risk awareness, hazard recognition and related emergency response actions is integrated in various formal and informal educational programmes and linked to regularly conducted drills and tests across the system to ensure operational readiness at any time.
  10. Feedback. Effective feedback and improvement mechanisms are in place at all levels to provide systematic evalua¬tion and ensure system improvement over time.

The lessons from these good practices can be adapted by countries that require multi-hazard risk management. The specific design and implementation of strategies vary according to the specific history, culture, socio-economic conditions, institutional structure, capacity and available resources for sustainability of the system.


The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database, available from EM-DAT is the database of Universit&eacute Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.

First International Conference on Early Warning (Potsdam, 1998). Available from

Second International Conference on Early Warning (Bonn, 2003). Available from

Third International Conference on Early Warning (Bonn, 2006). Available from

First Experts’ Symposium on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (Geneva, 2006). Available from

Second Experts’ Symposium on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (Toulouse, 2009). Available from

Global Early Warning Survey (2006):

Global Assessment Report 2009. Available from

Golnaraghi, M. (ed.), Institutional Partnerships in Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, forthcoming, Publisher, Springer Verlag GmbH.

Golnaraghi, M, J. Douris, and J.B. Migraine, Saving Lives Through Early Warning Systems and Emergency Preparedness Risk Wise, Tutor Rose Publishing, pp 137-141

Golnaraghi, M., J.Douris, and C. Baubion, (2011), Good practices in Multi-hazard Early Warning Systems, Risk Returns, Tutor Rose Publishing, pp 95 – 97.


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