Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Disaster Preparedness Workshop for Archives

The Australian Society of Archivists have organised a workshop on risk assessment and disaster preparedness, at the National Archives of Australia, Brisbane, 29 May 2010. There may be a follow-up day on salvage of water damaged materials on 24th July.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Programmer needed for Haiti Relief

The Sahana Software Foundation needs a developer for disaster relief software used in Haiti. They can be anywhere in the world, as long as they are contactable during Haiti business hours:
The Sahana Software Foundation is looking for a developer to support its Food Request Portal deployed to support the Food Cluster and the World Food Programme in Haiti.  This is a full-time position and requires
full-time availability (8 hours per day of work Monday through Friday,
and ability to be reachable during working hours in Haiti which is 1300
UTC until 0100 UTC). The main responsibility will be to support the
evolving requirements of the Food Cluster and the production, test and
development environments of this deployment. But one of the goals of
this effort will also be to move the FRP branch back into the trunk such
that the enhancements and features will become regular components of the
core SahanaPy project.

Skills/Experience required: python/web2py with good UI/UX skills, an
understanding of MySql, OpenLayers, KML approaches, experience with release management, coordinating QA & UAT testing, systems administration. Knowledge of SahanaPy a plus.

Candidates must be available to start no later than 15 March (the earlier is better). The full-time effort will run through the end of May 2010, followed by an additional part-time support effort of 40 hours (5 days) for the month of June 2010.

Interested persons should send a current CV to mark at sahanafoundation dot org as soon as possible.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Global Humanitarian Software Foundation

The Sahana Software Foundation has announced its initial membership to guide work on software to assist in disaster relief operations around the world. There are two Australian members: Don Cameron and myself.

The Sahana free open source software was written for relief operations in Sri Lanka after the boxing day tsunami. It has been expanded for use around the world, winning some awards along the way.

The 24 members from USA, UK, Sri Lanka, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand. will be voting for a Board of Directors in May, to run the organisation. The process has been delayed as many of the volunteers are busy providing software and systems to support the relief effort in Haiti.

My role in Sahana has been limited to providing some advice on the use interfaces for the system (and teaching this to my ANU web design students). But every little bit helps and I encourage others to join in.
Sahana Software Foundation


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, 10 February 2010: The Sahana Software Foundation announced today its initial membership. Membership invitations were extended in December 2009 to current and past board and project management committee members. Those who accepted this invitation and form the initial membership of the Sahana Software Foundation are:

David Bitner, USA
Fran Boon, UK
Ravith Botejue, Sri Lanka
Don Cameron, Australia
Mifan Careem, Sri Lanka
Trishan de Lanerolle, USA
Chamindra de Silva, Sri Lanka
Ravindra de Silva, Canada
Sudheera Fernando, Sri Lanka
Mahesh Kaluarachchi, Sri Lanka
Dominic König, Sweden
Ishan Liyanage, Sri Lanka
Greg Miernicki, USA
Darmendra Pradeeper, Sri Lanka
Mark Prutsalis, USA
Louiqa Raschid, USA
Eric Rasmussen, USA
Martin Thomsen, Denmark
Gavin Treadgold, New Zealand
Nuwan Waidyanatha, Sri Lanka
Sanjiva Weerawarana, Sri Lanka
Brent Woodworth, USA
Tom Worthington, Australia

Members of the Sahana Software Foundation are eligible to nominate new members and to vote for the composition of the Board of Directors and other issues at the annual meeting of members. The first meeting of the members of the Sahana Software Foundation is scheduled for May 2010 at which the first elected board will be voted on, followed by a board meeting.

The current board is composed of Mifan Careem, Chamindra de Silva, Darmendra Pradeeper, Mark Prutsalis, Louiqa Raschid, Martin Thomsen, Gavin Treadgold, Sanjiva Weerawarana and Brent

The officers of the Sahana Software Foundation are:

Brent Woodworth (Chair), Mark Prutsalis (President & CEO), Chamindra de Silva (Secretary & CTO), and Dale Zuehls (CFO/Accountant).

The governing bylaws of the Sahana Software Foundation can be reviewed at:

About the Sahana Software Foundation:
The Sahana Software Foundation was established in June 2009 as a non-profit membership-based organization, and governs the free and open source software Sahana disaster management system.

For more information, contact:
Mark Prutsalis, President & CEO
Sahana Software Foundation
Tel +1-860-499-0332

Sahana Software Foundation
900 Wilshire Blvd, Ste 1500
Los Angeles, CA 90017

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disaster Management System for Haiti Earthquake

The Sahana Open Source Disaster Management System is being prepared for use in the 2010 Haiti earthquake by a group of volunteers. Relief organisations needing computer support and IT organisations or individuals wishing to offer assistance, can get details at the Haiti Quake 2010 wiki.

Sahana was discussed in: "Emergency response information systems: emerging trends and technologies: Open source software for disaster management", Paul Currion, Chamindra de Silva, Bartel Van de Walle, Communications of the ACM
Volume 50, Number 3 (2007)

It was also mentioned in Sahana was discussed recently in: "Revitalizing computing education through free and open source software for humanity", Ralph Morelli, Allen Tucker, Norman Danner, Trishan R. De Lanerolle, Heidi J. C. Ellis, Ozgur Izmirli, Danny Krizanc, Gary Parker, Communications of the ACM
Volume 52, Number 8 (2009).

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Emergency 2.0 Australia

Emergency 2.0 Australia, is part of the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce looking at how Social Media can assist in Emergency Management. In my view Social Networking, the Internet and web, have a useful role in emergency communications. However, disaster management using IT needs to be carefully planned and tested.

The Emergency 2.0 Australia website is incorrect in suggesting that the February Victorian Bushfires saw the emergence of the use of social media and web2.0 technologies. The disaster just brought them to public prominence via the media. These were already being planned, tested and deployed elsewhere.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

US Military exercises with open source

Mark Prutsalis has been sending some interesting reports about the Sahana open source disaster management software being tried at Camp Roberts in California as part of RELIEF for by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Field Experimentation Program.

Sahana was developed for relief operations in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. After Hurricane Katrina the Sahana team discussed offering assistance. I suggested it would be unlikely the USA would have difficulty accepting external technical assistance. With Sahana as part of the Camp Roberts exercise, this is changing.

So here’s a summary of our major accomplishments:

  • We were able to integrate with a local Google fusion server that was used to process imagery of the Camp Roberts area through OpenLayers. Very cool. Very bleeding edge.
  • We were able to integrate with a local Open Street Maps tile server that produced data collected through Walking Papers and was available to Sahana through OpenLayers again. Again, very cool. Very bleeding edge. Do read Mikel Maron’s blog post on this.
  • We were able to set up two-way integration with InSTEDD’s GeoChat application through GeoRSS feeds.
  • We tested the ability of OLPCs and Netbooks to collect data in both networks and disconnected environments, connected by WIMAX and powered by a combination of solar and wind at a remote Forward Operating Base.
  • We developed procedures for synchronizing and importing data collected through portable applet instances.
From: Brain dump by Mark Prutsalis on November 12th 2009

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka

Cover of People's Verdict on Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka by Muttukrishna SarvananthanThe People's Verdict on Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka by Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, 2007, ISBN: 978-955-580-114-0) provides an useful analysis of the recovery operations after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The emotive title of "people's verdict" is unfortunate, as it may make the reader think this is some sort of left wing political propaganda, rather than the careful empirical research it is. The book is based on an extensive survey of tsunami survivors and provides useful lessons for future disaster recovery operations,. Unfortunately even so long after the events of 2004 it also notes where the recovery operation is still lacking, particularly with housing and schooling. Some surprising findings were that there was little corruption or discrimination in the distribution of aid. The provision of employment and schooling were identified as important issues. I acme across this book by accident in the new arrivals at the Australian National University Library. The International Centre for Ethnic Studies might wish to consider distributing excepts from this book online for free, so as to make the information more widely available.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Deployable Civilian Capability Disaster Management Software

According to media reports, the Prime Minister announced the creation of an Office of the Deployable Civilian Capability (DCC) within AusAid, at at the East Asia Summit today. This will have a register of up to 500 civilians ready to travel to disaster zones in the region at short notice. The DCC was included in the Government's response to the Australia 2020 Summit and the 2009-10 budget. A small Deployable Civilian Capability Group (DCC) was established in AusAid.
Regional Security - Deployable Civilian Capacity

Establish a deployable public service that will be able to more rapidly and effectively deliver development assistance.

Agree. The Government has agreed to develop a policy framework to enable rapid deployment of civilian experts to assist in international disaster relief, stabilisation and post conflict reconstruction efforts. An inter-agency task force is being led by AusAID to Undertake this work. Once established, a national deployable civilian capacity will allow more rapid and early delivery of stabilisation and recovery assistance to countries that experience conflict or natural disaster. The program reflects many of the ideas discussed at 2020, and also at the Youth Summit, and will be sufficiently adaptable to allow Australia to tailor our response to a particular event or emergency. It will also improve Australia's integration into multilateral reconstruction and stabilisation operations.

From: "Responding to the Australia 2020 Summit", Australian Government, 22 April 2009
AusAID is leading a whole-of-government taskforce to develop a Deployable Civilian Capacity, an idea raised at the Australia 2020 Summit. Once established, a national deployable civilian capacity will enable rapid deployment of civilian experts to provide stabilisation and recovery assistance to countries experiencing conflict, post-conflict situations or natural disaster. In cooperation with other government agencies, AusAID will pre‑identify, train, deploy rapidly and sustain civilian technical expertise. The program will build on Australia's experience of deploying civilian experts in post‑conflict situations, for example in East Timor and Solomon Islands, and improve Australia's integration into multilateral reconstruction and stabilisation operations.

From: Australia's International Development Assistance Program: A Good International Citizen, Budget 2009-10, Australian Government
As part of this I suggest the expansion of the Sahana open source disaster management system and online training.

Sahana was developed for the Boxing Day Tsunami and has been used in several subsequent disasters in Asia. A demonstration of Sahana available online.

Recently two New Zealand councils of issued a request for Expression of Interest for a Information and Communications System for a joint Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for emergency and disaster coordination. In response I suggested that a deployable system housed in a an airline carry-on size wheeled bag. Also I suggest that the Sahana system could be expanded from its disaster management role to cover coordination as well. The Sahana community saw this of interest, but not their core function. However, if the Australian Government provided some modest funding, this could be done.

The Deployable Civilian Capability Group could be equipped with low cost portable computer equipment allowing much more efficient coordinated relief operations. This would also take a load off the military communicators who are usually relied on during disaster operations, but are heavily committed elsewhere.

In addition I suggest using Mentored and Collaborative e-Learning to help train the group. The group members will rarely meet and have little time for face to face training. Using training in online groups will allow an esprit de corps to form, as well as make maximum use of limited resources.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Emergency Operations Centre Specifications

The Nelson City and Tasman District Councils of New Zealand have issued a request for Expression of Interest for a Information and Communications System for a joint Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) (Reference: 27532). This is for emergency and disaster coordination.

The 23 pages of documentation (available to registered companies) includes a concise statement of requirements for such a system. Included is a photo of an EOC, equipped with about 13 computers and having about 20 people in it. In contrast to the usual publicity photos of such centres, this shows the messy reality. The requirements specification also shows a simialr grasp of the chaos which can occour in the early stages of an emergecy.

The documentation also specifies the current computer and telecommunications systems of the councils. These a re quite complex and the Councils might find it better to replace them with a more rationalised streamlined system, rather than try to make these systems suitable for emergency use. Recent advancements in thin client computers using VoIP allow low cost equipment to work at low power from low cost servers. This makes for a much simpler set-up than PCs and IP phones which will require more backup power, networking and servers.

Simple database applications with web based interfaces can be used. In many cases organisations spend considerable effort and money on systems to allow the emergency applications to run in standalone mode, in the event of server loss. In practice, most such systems will not work without the server and it is better to concentrate on a cheap, similar and reliable server system.

Also low power, low cost netbooks could be of use. These could replace more power hungry and expensive laptops. Smart phones with WiFi support may also be of use o supplement netbooks. These can form a useful transportable operations centre, with all the equipment needed for a dozen operators fitting in an airline carry-on size wheeled bag. A central server and WiFi base station would provide access for a dozen netbooks and smart phones. This could be used to supplement the fixed centre and the same location, be deployed nearer an emergency location or be used to replace the centre should it be disabled in the disaster.

1.80. The EOC may need to operate under three general scenarios:
a. A local emergency with normal power and telecommunications
b. A local emergency with local interruptions to power and
telecommunications (in this scenario the EOC has its own power supply so ICT within the building can operate)
c. Significant emergency, could be Local, Regional or even a National Emergency with limited or no power supply or telecommunications, EOC could be running from one or two stand alone PCs or possibly have reverted to analogue (plus paper-based) systems 1.81. The EOC, when fully operational could be operating 24 hours a day for several days with 30-40 staff in three revolving eight hour shifts (see image below for an overall impression of what an EOC looks like).

1.82. The above image is of a mature EOC i.e. an EOC well into an emergency. When first activated, particularly in a declared emergency, the situation can be quite chaotic. EOC staff may start to arrive over the course of an hour or more and it might take some time for the EOC to reach ‘critical mass’.


1.83. Once activated, several different personnel, though typically designated telephonists within the EOC will need to be able to simultaneously record incoming information. This will include messages from: members of the public phoning in, emergency services communications, reports via radio telephone and/or mobile phone from emergency management personnel on the
ground, emergency management personnel reporting face to face. The EOC personnel having those conversations need to be able to quickly record details of the conversation in a structured way.

1.84. Ideally the person taking the call will be able to choose from different situation choices based on what the caller is saying i.e. flooding, blocked road (and blocked by: slip, fallen tree, vehicle incident), call-taker is prompted by
the system about what questions to ask (possibly in a descending order of importance). Where applicable, responses can be tic-boxes.

1.85. Ideally the system will automatically assign metadata where appropriate i.e. date, time, user ID, machine ID

1.86. The use of geospatial aids (maps) is usual in EOC to aid visual representation of an emergency and as an aid to analysis of the situation. Emergency situations suit such analysis because typically incidents within a wider emergency occur at some location. To facilitate display and analysis within a
geographical information system (GIS) (during and subsequent to an emergency), in capturing those locations, the call-taker should be able to choose from managed lists the location that fits the description from the caller i.e. Address (18 Hampden Street, Murchison), Road Intersections (cnr Motueka Quay and Glenaven Drive, Motueka), Road (waimea Road, Nelson), Place or Places (Broadgreen House or Appleby School), River Segments (Washbourn Stream between Hill Street and Washbourn Drive or Motueka River between Woodstock and Stanleybrook).

1.87. Assigning criteria to calls: The person taking the call will need to be able to assign a range of different criteria to an individual message.
• Validation: Who was the caller? How reliable is their information? Was the caller ‘Joe Bloggs’, untrained and unqualified member of the public or a trained and experienced member of Emergency Services or an Emergency Management Field Operative? The information supplied by the latter would be rated higher than the former.
• Urgency: i.e. ‘routine’ through to ‘requires immediate attention’
• Importance: i.e. ‘routine’ through to ‘highest’
1.88. The system would be able to ‘flag’ or highlight individual messages based on a criteria i.e. ‘Red-Flag’ for urgent or important or ‘Blue-Flag’ for routine.
1.89. Have the capability to link or group one or more messages together.
1.90. Often in an emergency situation the EOC will receive multiple calls in a short span of times about the same situation. Rather than record this multiple times, it would be more efficient if you could record the same base information e.g. “Appleby Bridge approaches washed out”, then note the number of calls
received about that. Explain how the system might achieve this.
Request for Expressions of Interest to Supply

1.91. Once the EOC call taker or team member has captured all the information regards a particular message, they need to be able to:
• Assign the message to an individual EOC team member
• Assign the message to an EOC team e.g. Planning and Intelligence
• Assign a message to multiple individuals and/or teams
1.92. The system routes a particular message via some form of workflow function to the assigned individual/s and/or team/s
1.93. In the event no individual/s or team/s are assigned to a particular message, the message can be configured to rout particular messages, based on a userdefined criteria to an individual or team based on one of the captured criteria
e.g. all messaged tagged ‘highest’ importance go to the Controller
1.94. Individuals and team can quickly and easily see/be alerted to/find messages assigned to them
1.95. Individuals and/or groups need to be able to add to a message. This may include adding additional information and/or comments. Assigning or reassigning status e.g. under action, closed, validation required, or assigning to an additional individual or team
1.96. Explain how the workflow function works.
1.97. Once messages have been processed have the ability to check or tag them in some way as ‘complete’ or ‘actioned’ etc. and they disappear from the ‘active’ list/screen but stay in the system.

1.98. Could have the capability to be installed, stand alone within Councils smaller EOCs; Motueka, Takaka, Murchison but with the capability to communicate (integrate) with the main EOC
1.99. System can be scaled to monitor and/or manage the range response levels (from Introduction): Level 3 – Local Coordination; Level 4 – Regional Coordination i.e. the system may start off monitoring/managing a single incident which eventually escalates into a full emergency.
1.100. While for most emergencies it would be envisaged the system would operate within Councils existing ICT infrastructure (refer ‘Existing System & Environment section) because of the nature of emergencies it would also need the capability to run in a stand alone situation i.e. be network independent. How would that work?

1.101. External communication is an important component of an emergency response i.e. letting interested parties know about the status of the emergency; where evacuation points might be; what areas have been evacuated etc. The system would be able to communicate, preferably via standards-based protocols to external agencies/sites i.e. make available data/information feeds in standard formats e.g. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) or Extensible Mark-up Language (XML) or Keyhole Markup Language (KML). Consumers of such feeds could include: Nelson City and Tasman District Offices, Emergency Services (Fire, Police, Ambulance), National Crisis Management Centre,
National Health Coordination Centre. Explain capability for this.
1.102. The system might want the capability to utilise real-time data feeds using standard protocols from TDC and NCC core systems. How could that happen?
1.103. System would have the potential to integrate with Councils geographical information systems (GIS), specifically Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) ArcGIS Server, through web services or other standardsbased integration methods.

How might that work?
1.104. Please supply details of the systems architecture.
1.105. Explain how server/PC images, versions and upgrades could be managed particularly at satellite locations such as Murchison.
1.106. How is your system be licensed including those costs.
1.107. Would any changes be required to Councils existing architecture?
Setup and operation
1.108. The system would need to be relatively straightforward and quick to setup/activate/get going once the EOC is activated. Please explain how this might happen.
1.109. Any system should follow established keyboard quick-key functions e.g. Ctrl>C for copy etc.
1.110. Though some system training would be anticipated, graphical user interfaces (GUI) and functional methods would need to be intuitive. Give us some examples if available.
1.111. Please explain how your system creates and manages the message objects it creates?
1.112. In the event of a situation where power supply to the building is affected or the nature of the emergency requires the EOC to relocate, it may be required to fail-over to a manual system. How would/could the system report the current status of the emergency, elements of which the system manages such
that this could be replicated and then managed on-going in an analogue (hardcopy) environment.

1.113. The system will need to be able to report on of individual or groups or types of messages based on different user-defined criteria
• Status of messages tagged with a specific urgency rating
• Show messages not actions after a certain length of time
• Show all messages of a certain type e.g. flooding
• or number of messages logged over this time frame
• all messages to a specific user or group
• Please detail reporting functionality.

1.114. Describe any central administration tools you can offer or how you propose council would monitor and support the solution;
1.115. Is there any software that can automatically inform council of problems?
1.116. Is there a central management console and what functions does it support?
Status/Message Board
1.117. The system will need a ‘status board’ functionality to display the latest key data in relation to an emergency event the EOC is managing. This might be thought of as key performance indicator (KPI) reporting and be based on a number of ‘indicators’. The status board will give a ‘snapshot’ of the
1.118. The status board would also provide key information such as if a state of emergency is declared, and when.

Knowledge Base
1.119. Some kind of knowledgebase would be useful. This could include standard information generic to a general or type of emergency i.e. key contacts, designated assembly points etc. It could also include information about the specific emergency at hand i.e. evacuation centres established, status of individual towns etc. If a knowledgebase was to be utilised in this way it
would need the capability to evolve as the emergency evolved. ...

From: Request for Expressions of Interest to Supply

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Disaster Communications

Disaster Communications in a Changing Media World by Kim S Haddow and George Haddow (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008) gives some useful general tips on media management for government and non-government disaster management organisations. This book is not about the technicalities of how to provide telecommunications during a disaster, it is about how to talk to the media, and through the media to the population. It also touches on the use of new media, email, SMS, the web and instant messaging. However, the bulk of the book is common-sense advice which applies to any media. The book suffers from a strong US bias, dealing the history of FEMA. There are a comical number of photos of public officials talking to journalists. There are some useful case studies. However, overall the book is disappointing, as the message seems to be than public communication is about a spokesman (yes, they are almost all male) standing up giving an interview to the TV and radio.

Some topics: incident command system, national response framework, social media, neighbourhood communications networks, mitigation messages, preparedness messages, first informers, changing media world, trusted community leaders, emergency management operations, next disaster strikes, disaster messages, emergency officials, emergency management organisations, cable news outlets, citizen journalists, media partnership, emergency managers, mitigation initiative, online news sites, traditional media outlets, citizen journalism, disaster information, participatory journalism, incident management system

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Disaster Management System Support for Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government's Information and Communication Technology Agency has issued a request for Expressions of Interest for "Deployment of the Sahana Disaster Management System for the National Disaster Relief Services Centre" (due August 10, 2009). Sahana is an open source application developed in response to the December 2004 Tsunami. Provided are a one page Request for Expressions of Interest and a 14 page Scope of Services document. The scope of services document provides an excellent overview of issues with open soruce software for disaster management.
The Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) is the implementing Agency for the e-Sri Lanka initiative. The Re-engineering Government is one of the main programme areas of ICTA, which aims to improve the efficiency of delivery and access mechanisms of the government. The objectives of the Re-engineering Government Programme are mainly to be achieved by re-engineering the government business processes and enabling those processes with Information and Communication Technologies.

The National Disaster Relief Services Centre (NDRSC) which functions under the purview of the Ministry of Resettlement & Disaster Relief Services is responsible for post disaster management and relief in Sri Lanka. The main functions of the NDRSC are Search and Rescue, Disaster Relief and Resettlement & Rehabilitation. The NDRSC functions through the responsible government operatives in district and divisional secretariat levels. It has been identified that the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be further deployed to improve the efficiency of NDRSC significantly.

„Sahana‟ is an internationally award winning web based disaster management system which has been successfully deployed to manage various recent large scale disasters by the Government of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Philippines, Peru, Bangladesh and China. Sahana is a free and open disaster management system and, it has been envisioned that the Sahana would be the perfect solution which could be easily customized and enhanced to cater the requirements of NDRSC.

ICTA now invites Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from eligible Software Service Providers (Firms) to take up this project. Interested consultants must provide information indicating that they are qualified to perform the services (core business and years in business, qualifications in the field of the assignment, technical and managerial organization of the firm, general qualifications and number of key staff, experience in similar conditions etc). The “Scope of Services” and “EOI Information Form” documents are now available at ICTA for further information. Interested parties may download above documents from the website

Interested eligible parties may obtain further information from Mr. Christy Perera - Procurement Advisor, ICTA by contacting via Phone: +94 11 2369099, Fax: +94 11 2369091) and E-mail:; Expressions of Interest including all requested information must be delivered no later than 1500 hrs on 10th August 2009 either: (i) electronically to; or (ii) hand delivered or (iii) by post to the address; Procurement Division, ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, 2nd Floor, 160/24, Kirimandala Mawatha, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka.

Please mark clearly on the envelope and subject field of e-mail “Expressions of Interest - Deployment of the Sahana Disaster Management System for the National Disaster Relief Services Centre - ICTA/CON/GOSL/QCBS/38”. ...

From: Request for Expressions of Interest (EOI), Presidential Secretariat, e-SRI LANKA DEVELOPMENT PROJECT, Deployment of the Sahana Disaster Management System for the National Disaster Relief Services Centre - ICTA/CON, GOSL/QCBS/38, 17 July 2009

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Victorian Internet Bushfire Warnings

A Proposed Interim Report of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was presented by the Counsel Assisting on 2 July 2009. The draft report in a 63 page PDF document (536 kbytes). Several of the key findings and recommendations relate to the use of the Internet, the web and other ICT.

The commission has done a very thorough and thoughtful job in collecting, analysis and collation of a large amount of information and making sensible relevant recommendations. The recommendations for having a single bushfire emergency web site and using visual as well as text based information and to be designed to function during periods of extreme demand are key. For several years I have been teaching students of the Australian National University how to design emergency web sites.

One criticism I would have of the recommendations which relate to the use of ICT is that they are made peace meal, under the various topics. A key problem which this therefore does not address is the peace meal nature of the resulting systems. What is needed is one system which is used to prepare one consistent collection on bushfire which can be disseminated using different technology to different people.

As an example the commission recommends that warnings be read on air on the ABC, but I suggest that these warnings should also be available via the ABC's web site and particularly their mobile web site and via the RSS and other feed systems the ABC uses.

Also while the commission recommends one single, multi‐agency bushfire information website for Victoria, in my opinion, this does not go far enough. Bushfire is not the only form of emergency which Victoria is subject to. Therefore the Victorian government should provide one emergency information website for all forms of life threatening emergencies in Victoria, including bus fires.

One issued raised by a submission to the inquiry, but not taken up by the commission in its recommendations is the resilience of the proposed National Broadband Network in an emergency. As I have pointed out, the government has not set does not have use of the NBN in an emergency as a priority. If the NBN is not designed to operate during a power failure or in other emergencies, as it beings to replace conventional PSTN telephones, the risk to the public will increase as a result.
2.2. Construction, content of warnings
Key findings ...

(e) CFA bushfire warnings are assigned three “levels”: Awareness, Alert and Urgent Threat. Ideally, each such warning is posted (in a timely fashion) to the CFA website, read aloud on ABC radio and provided to the VBIL. The evidence before the Royal Commission is that on 7 February 2009 this did not always occur in a timely fashion. ...

2.3. Specific methods of delivering warnings.

2.3.1. Single, multi‐agency bushfire information website for Victoria.
Key findings

(a) The public rely on fire agency websites for accurate and up to date information about fires in their area. ...

(b) Currently CFA and DSE maintain separate websites. CFA and DSE are working to present bushfire information on a single website. ...

Proposed recommendations

(a) A single, multi‐agency bushfire information website for Victoria be established and operational for the 2009‐2010 fire season.
(b) The website must provide timely, accurate and up to date bushfire information posted by the fire agencies, that is consistent with the bushfire information being delivered through other modes, including the VBIL and ABC radio. The website must be designed to communicate information quickly and simply, using visual as well as text based information and have the capacity to function during periods of extreme demand.
(c) The website be designed to allow Incident Control Centres (ICCs) to post bushfire information directly to the website.

2.3.2. Standard Emergency Warning Signal
Key findings
(a) The Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS) is not itself a ”warning”. Rather, it is a distinctive alert tone or signal broadcast prior to warnings for major emergencies. It is designed to “alert listeners/viewers of radio/television that an official emergency announcement is about to be made concerning an actual or potential emergency which has the potential to affect them”. ...

(b) The current protocol for the use of SEWS requires the control agency to request the police to authorise its use. Victoria Police (via the Divisional Emergency Response Coordinator) then sends an “Emergency Warning Notice” to the media. On receipt of that formal request to issue a warning, the media are expected to broadcast the warning message, preceded by the distinctive “SEWS tone” for 15 seconds.
(c) SEWS was not used on 7 February 2009 in Victoria. Its use is not referred to in the Emergency Management Manual. Indeed, SEWS has not been regularly used in Victoria, because of concerns that it can be overused and thereby become ineffective and the possibility that it might cause “confusion”. ...
(d) There is no research to suggest that use or “overuse” of SEWS has caused any significant confusion or inconvenience in the community. ...
(e) The Commonwealth has been considering a “relaunch” of SEWS, however it ceased that work in anticipation of the findings of this Royal Commission. ...
(f) SEWS is useful in alerting people to the content of a warning message to follow, and it has been used in South Australia (since 2005) for that very purpose. ...

Proposed recommendations

(a) The Standard Emergency Warning Signal (SEWS) must be used in Victoria to precede each Urgent Threat message in relation to a bushfire and in all circumstances where lives are at risk by reason of bushfire.
(b) The Emergency Management Manual Victoria should be amended to provide that:
(i) the use of SEWS is to precede each urgent threat message issued in relation to a bushfire;
(ii) the use of SEWS is required in all circumstances when lives are at risk; and
(iii) the use of SEWS may be authorised during bushfires by the Chief Officer of the CFA or the Chief Officer of DSE.
(c) The State Government to commence an intensive education campaign to inform the Victorian community that the distinctive SEWS signal will be used before each Urgent Threat message for bushfires and in all circumstances where lives are at risk by reason of bushfire.
(d) The ABC, CFA and DSE to implement a streamlined process for the use of SEWS on ABC radio and television.
(e) The CFA and DSE to invite commercial operators to enter into a Memoranda of Understanding in relation to the dissemination of bushfire warning messages and a process for the use of SEWS by those operators.

2.3.3. Community Information and Warning Systems and Dissemination of Warnings
Key findings

(a) In 2005, the Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner (OESC), in partnership with Telstra, ran a successful trial of an opt in land line telephony based community warning system in two communities in Victoria. ...

(b) Since the 2005 trial, Victoria’s position has been that a national community information and warning system should be implemented. Victoria has advocated this position forcefully at the highest levels, including in communications between the Premier and the Minister for Police and the Commonwealth. ...

(c) The use of a nationally consistent community information warning system drawing on such technology is supported in an AFAC Discussion Paper: “A National Systems Approach to Community Warnings”, 3 June 2009. ...

(d) On 2 October 2008, COAG formally noted that “A nationally – consistent community emergency warning system will enhance the current capability to provide timely and accurate warnings in the event of emergencies and provide useful information and advice on individual and community responses. COAG has requested that all remaining tasks, including a cost – benefit analysis, be completed by the end of 2008”. ...

(e) But the period between 2006 and 2009 was largely characterised by delay. There was extended debate between Commonwealth departments about the need for legislative amendment to facilitate access to the Integrated Public Numbers Database (IPND). ...

(f) On 3 December 2008, the Attorney General wrote to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy stating: “As noted by COAG, a telephony based warning system has the potential to save lives”. ...

(g) During the period 2004 to 2009, the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy maintained the view that changes to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) were necessary to permit access by emergency services to the IPND. ...

(h) The delay was also in part due to the fact that until after the 2009 fires, the States and the Commonwealth had not agreed on the appropriate model for a national system. ...

(i) In March 2009, the necessary amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) were made. ...

(j) On 2 March 2009, after the February 2009 fires, and before the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) amendments were made, Victoria Police and the OESC determined to issue a mass warning message via SMS in order to warn of predicted severe weather.

Telstra was instrumental in the arrangements for the dissemination of the message. A review conducted in relation to this event revealed a high rate of recall by recipients and “success” in terms of the message delivery. ...

(k) The SMS message was able to be sent by Telstra because access to the IPND was not required, as Telstra simply sent the message to its customers using their billing addresses. Out of "an abundance of caution", Telstra was also supplied with a certificate from Victoria Police which stated that the message was necessary to be sent by reason of a "serious and imminent threat" to life. Although this certificate echoes the wording of the exception in s287 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), Telstra did not in fact purport to rely on that section. Indeed, Mr Consolo accepted in evidence that Telstra has always possessed the capacity to send such an SMS message to its customers, though this message offers no "geo‐coding" function. Mr Esplin, in his evidence, noted that the agreement of carriers to take such a step was, in his view, unlikely to have been obtained prior to the events of 7 February 2009. ...

(l) On 30 April 2009, following a COAG meeting, the Commonwealth announced that COAG had agreed to implement a national telephone emergency warning system. The first stage (which COAG said would be in place by October 2009) will provide warnings in the form of recorded voice messages and SMS messages to the billing addresses of landline and mobile phones. A second stage of the system that would permit sending of
phone messages based on the location of the telephone handset is to be investigated. ...

(m) Despite the development of this new technology, it is clear that multiple methods of dissemination of warnings should continue to be used for the following reasons:

(i) members of the community may obtain information in a variety of ways including websites, telecommunications, radio and informal networks – and tend to like to confirm information received with other sources; and
(ii) it is advisable to preserve multiple modes of disseminating warnings (including old technology such as sirens, door to door visits, radio and new technology such as SMS, official websites, informal websites, Twitter, Facebook) to reach the broadest possible audience and to guard against failure of any single mode of communication. ...

(a) The Commonwealth and COAG should ensure that implementation of stage one of the new national emergency warning system prior to bushfire season 2009‐2010.
(b) The State of Victoria should be an active participant in the development, implementation and operation of the new national emergency warning system.
(c) The State of Victoria should immediately commence a program of community education in order to ensure that Victorians are well informed about the proper use of and response to the use of the new national emergency warning system, particularly in the event of bushfire, prior to the 2009‐2010 season. Such community education program to draw on the experiences of the “Community Information and Warning System: The Report of The Trial and Evaluation”, OESC (2006) ...
(d) If by September 2009, it appears unlikely that the first phase of the national system will be operational, the State of Victoria to make representations to the Commonwealth Government with a view to securing a commitment that the system will be available at least in Victoria’s Bushfire Risk Zones by bushfire season 2009‐2010.
(e) Multiple means of disseminating warning message should be retained including the continued use of ABC broadcasts, a single multi agency website (see proposed recommendation 2.3.1) and sirens where adopted by particular communities (see proposed recommendation 2.3.4).

2.3.5. Publication of Fire Danger Index forecasts
Key findings

(a) The Bureau of Meteorology routinely forecasts the Forest Fire Danger Index and the Grass Fire Danger Index (collectively the Fire Danger Index or FDI) and provides these forecasts to the fire agencies. ...
(b) The FDI forecasts are not included in the general weather forecasts posted on the Bureau’s website or distributed to the media. They are made available to the public only in the fire weather forecasts posted on the Bureau’s website on the afternoon before the day in question. ...
(c) A number of lay witnesses wanted to see the FDI forecasts published more widely. ...

Proposed recommendations
(a) The Bureau of Meteorology include the Forest Fire Danger Index and Grass Fire Danger Index in its fire weather warnings and general weather forecasts posted on its website and distributed to the media. ...

4.9. Application to those in places other than homes – e.g. schools, nursing homes, hospitals

Proposed Recommendations – stay or go (key findings 4.1‐4.9)

(ii) that before the commencement of the 2009 ‐ 2010 fire season they be revised and enhanced to clearly convey the following ...

(M) Advice about when to leave, incorporating a cascading series of triggers
(noting that a warning may not be received and should not be relied upon)
namely ...
• When you are advised to be on alert in relation to a fire that has
commenced. This requires that you pay attention to fire information sources (ABC, fire agency website) on days of total fire ban and extreme fire risk. ...

8. Detection of fires
8.1. Early detection, mapping and prediction of fire spread
Key findings ...

(n) Threat messages issued concerning the Kilmore East fire prior to 18.00 on 7 February 2009 made no reference to the anticipated frontal change. ...

(p) Kilmore ICC authorised at 16.10 on 7 February 2009 release of threat message warning communities from Kinglake to Strath Creek of fire. That message did not appear on the CFA website. ...

(r) Narbethong was the subject of a threat message on the DSE website at 16.45 on 7 February 2009 and Marysville was the subject of a threat message on the DSE website at 17.15 on 7 February 2009. ...

19.2. Communications infrastructure

Key findings

(a) Warnings, both formal and informal, are communicated by a range of means including mobile and fixed line telephones, radio, television and the internet. Members of the public need to be able to contact emergency services in an emergency.

Communications within and between emergency services agencies are vital to an effective and co‐ordinated emergency response. A reliable and robust communications infrastructure is therefore essential.

(b) The Commission has heard evidence that indicates that Victoria’s communications infrastructure was placed under great stress on 7 February, and that there were difficulties in communicating with and within emergency services, and generally. ...

(c) To date the Commission has heard evidence from the ABC, ACE Radio Broadcasters, Telstra, ESTA, DSE, CFA and Victoria Police in respect of public radio and television, fixed and mobile telephone networks, managed radio networks and the operation of emergency call services. Some of these communications media performed well on 7 February, others less so. ...

(d) The Commission has also heard evidence that indicates that communications in some parts of Victoria are less than optimal under normal conditions. ...

Proposed recommendations
(a) No further recommendation is proposed. Victoria’s communications infrastructure will be the subject of evidence in future hearings. ...

From: Proposed Interim Report of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Counsel Assisting, 2 July 2009.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

New Zealand Sahana Disaster Management System Cluster

Tim McNamara has called a meeting to form a New Zealand non-profit group to work with others around the world on the Sahana free open source disaster management system. The meeting is in Wellington, New Zealand, 30 July 2009:

Sahana Free and Open Source Disaster Management System | New Zealand Cluster

Have a Play

Get Involved

Turn Up

5:30pm, 30 July 2009, Level 6, Willis Street, Wellington, New Zealand

(RSVP via

What is this anyway?

The New Zealand Sahana Cluster is being formed to bring together technology experts, translators, emergency managers, researchers to bring forward widespread adoption of Sahana in New Zealand.

Sahana is Sinhalese for 'Relief' and signifies the history of the project from its development to reconnect families displaced due to the Boxing Day Tsunami. The New Zealand Cluster seeks to have the same positive impact for Kiwi communities.

Some deployments:

  • Asian Tsunami in Sri Lanka (2005)
  • Kashmir Earthquake in Pakistan (2005)
  • Landslide disaster in Philippines (2005)
  • Sarvodaya and Terre des Hommes, Sri Lankan NGOs (2005-)
  • Yogjakarta Earthquake, Indonesia (2006)
  • Earthquake in Peru (2007)
  • Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh (2007)
  • Coastal Storm Plan in New York City (2007-)
  • Ica Earthquake, Peru (2007)
  • Chendu-Sitzuan Earthquake, China (2008)
  • National Disaster Management Center &
  • Ministry of Resettlement & Disaster Relief Services, Sri Lanka (2009)

International Sponsors:

IBM Google NSF

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hand washing for swine flu

To wash your hands properly, first wet your hands, then apply soap.In my analysis of the Australian Government's Swine Flu web site I suggested the instructions for handwashing could be improved. The instructions are contained in a 24 kbyte GIF file on the "Individuals and households" page. Here I have separated the four steps into individual images, reduced to 32 colours, and removed text from the images. The result is four files, each of 4 kbytes.

To wash your hands properly:
  1. Wet your hands, then apply soap.

    To wash your hands properly, first wet your hands, then apply soap.
  2. Lather vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds.

    To wash your hands properly. Wet your hands, then apply soap. Lather vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. Rinse with water. Dry your hands afterwards with a clean towel.
  3. Rinse with water.

    To wash your hands properly, third rinse with water.
  4. Dry your hands afterwards with a clean towel.

    To wash your hands properly, lastly dry your hands afterwards with a clean towel.
Some points to note: I replaced the dash in "15-20 seconds" with the word "to". This is more understandable if the text is converted to synthetic speech by an assisted technology device for the blind. Otherwise the text will be read as "fifteen dash twenty seconds".

Reducing the complexity of the images by removing the shading to make them pictograms would reduce them to 1 kbyte each and also make them easier to understand. A simple animation also could be made from the images.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Role of the web in bushfire warnings

The 2009 Victorian Brushfires Royal Commission is addressing the issue of the role of the web in providing warning to the public. Professor John Handmer, author of "Handbook of Disaster and Emergency Policies and Institutions", gave evidence on 16 June 2009. The statement is not yet online (the commission secretariat told me they have some "technological issues" with statements at present), but the Transcript of Proceedings is. Below are some excerpts dealing with the web and Internet. I agree with the general approach suggested by Professor Handmer, but would like to see simple efficient web mark-up used for warnings, rather than plain text.
You note in paragraph 16 that the audience for a warning may be hugely variable and towards the end of that paragraph you note that, "People go to different sources. Some community members may be habitual uses of the internet, others might be more likely to turn to the radio, others might use personal networks. There are different preferred modes of receiving information." How does that then impact on the way that one should take care to disseminate warnings?---Ideally - I mean the community at risk is infinitely diverse. Each individual, we could argue, has a unique preferred way of receiving a warning, but at some level we have to stop, I suppose. But ideally the modes that are the preferred ways for that community at risk to receive their information should be the modes that are used, given whatever is practical, and that means, almost always it means that there would be several modes.

So it would be preferable in your view to use the internet as well as ABC Radio and perhaps even give consideration to other modes like phone calls or Twitter sites?---Yes, that's right. They are all reasonably technological means. One could argue that in many communities to ensure that the more vulnerable people - it depends on the community - are reached, we would probably need to get into the local networks, the personal networks or the community networks to try to activate, if you like, the neighbourhood to make sure that people who may not receive warnings via those modes receive them either by direct personal contact or some other way, and that they make sure that they are in a position to take what sort of protective action is needed. But this is tapping into what we call the informal warning system. Is there another benefit to disseminating by more than one means, namely in case of failure of one means or imperfect delivery of one means during a crisis?---That's right. We would argue that reliance on any single mode of dissemination is pretty risky, partly because it is not going to get to everybody no matter what it is and, secondly, any single mode is subject to failure or congestion or interruption.

The next aspect you turn to in your statement is timeliness and you note in paragraph 17, "A warning should be delivered in a timely manner so as to allow people to confirm what they have to do and take action in time." Is that a feature you have noticed in your research, that people usually seek confirmation from further sources before they act?---There are two things that come out of the research, main things. One is what you have just said, that people will almost always seek confirmation. Officials will, too. But people at risk will seek confirmation usually by mobilising their personal networks or if they hear something, read something on the web, listen to the radio or TV or ring somebody or vice versa. This is pretty normal and we have found often people - they also might want to ascertain the location of other household members. There are a number of things go on typically before people take action. The other thing we have noticed is that very frequently people receive the warning or at least understand that the warning is important to them too late to do anything useful. ...

Websites. Can we go to question 5, which starts at page 0018, and you note in paragraph 67 that web-based material has really become the primary source of information in our society. In paragraph 69 you make some points about who uses the internet. You say that even though it seems ubiquitous, in 2006 about a quarter of Victorians didn't have internet access. So, although that is a declining proportion, that needs to be kept in mind. That comes from the census data, is that right?---That's right. So it remains the case that the web is not a fix all. One would need to keep in mind promoting messages through ABC Radio and other means?---That's right. The point there is that a proportion of households, and they are likely to be people who are more vulnerable, elderly people and so on, do not have web access. It is also an interesting thing that people who promote the web as a vehicle for warnings have an implicit assumption that people are out there actively seeking their warnings on the web. We don't have evidence for that.

That's an important point you make at point 3: "Websites offer a passive form of warning. That is, they don't alert you to come and read them, although you will find the message if you go and look for it"?---That's true. There are a variety of ways of overcoming that and making websites active through all kinds of tools that can send the messages to you now, Widgets, Twitter and so on. But, nevertheless, the basic principle is that a website is a passive form of warning.

It could be used in conjunction, though, couldn't it, with those other tools you mentioned. If there was a SEWS signal played on the radio or an automated phone call or a text message, part of which suggested looking at a website, that might combine the call to action with finding more information on the website?---It could, or it could simply be that the material on the website is sent to your mobile phone or whatever by one of these devices and there are several possibilities with that.

You note over the page on 0019 some issues about currency and reliability and the issues which may arise when a website is under heavy demand. We touched on this when you spoke of your own experience on 7 February. Is there a way to address the situation when websites are under heavy demand and therefore slow down or even become inaccessible?---They tend to slow right down, that's right. There are a number of ways of addressing it.

Probably the simplest way is for people to take the information off the site automatically and feed it onto other sites or other systems. In the fires on February 7th the material from the CFA site was re-posted, if you like, via Twitter. There was an unofficial site, CFA updates, which was a Twitter site, and that is still active, actually. That was one of a number of sites that on the day took material unofficially from the site. There is a way of doing it which is quite legitimate and CFA encourage it. So, that's one way. What that does is take the load off the site. Another way is to ask people not to use it or to restrict access, but that doesn't seem very promising to me, given that we actually want people to use it, but that's a standard response. Otherwise, there are a number of technical ways of doing this which I outline in the paper. They are basically about reducing the degree of interactivity with the site, so that when you go into the site you don't actually - what you get is just sitting there. The amount of processing power that site needs to use is limited one way or another. Things like graphics, logos and so on, which we have more and more of them on our sites, are pretty hungry for memory.

The idea is not to use them in these emergency situations. In one sense it is an argument for moving to a different website mode in a major emergency when you know the demand is going to be great. I don't know whether I mention it here, but after the tsunami the British Commonwealth and Foreign Office or Foreign and Commonwealth Office website on travel advisories and so on switched to a text only mode for precisely this reason.

And that reduces the memory use?---That's right. It can handle a lot more inquiries.

I note in paragraph 72 you suggest, if we just deal with websites bit by bit, you suggest first of all that it would be useful for there to be one website rather than the DSE and the CFA websites?---A lot of people are arguing this, that there should be one website, but it is a trade-off, I want to say, as well, because if there is one website, all the problems we are talking about in terms of website overload and so on are exacerbated. The solution of course is that there are two sites but they mirror each other's content.

So two sites with the same content or multiple sites with the same content may help?---Yes. I think a single site in terms of content is the ideal, but if we look at the practicalities and the reliability, we are much better off having a number of sites.

Is there also potential to enable information within a website to be hived off, namely to enable people to look at particular messages pertaining to particular parts of Victoria so that they are using different pages or different information at the one time?---Yes, there are a range of devices and so on that can be embedded in sites to do that, and even to send them to the people concerned. You set out all these matters working through to paragraph 80 in the statement. Paragraph 77 is where you deal with the RSS feed. This is the capacity you spoke of for the material on an internet site to be mirrored, if you like, over on a Twitter site?---Yes, but not quite. The RSS feeds really just take key information. They don't take the whole information of the site. That is one reason why they can actually feed information on to sites like

Twitter or even mobile phones if the system is enabled. They take headliners, basically.

Dealing with sirens, which is question 6 - - -

COMMISSIONER PASCOE: Before we leave the websites, a question about the Bureau of Meteorology site which had, we are told, 70 million hits on the day and is used to having a massive - - -?---It is the most popular in Australia, I think, the most popular government site.

I don't know whether you have looked at the features of that site and what enables that site to cope with the heavy demand vis-a-vis the sites that we have just been talking about and whether there are any lessons we can learn from the bureau website?---I'm sure there are, but I haven't personally investigated them, but a lot of the bureau's material is in very basic text form and I think that's probably one of the key features of enabling that site to handle such loads. But I think that would be a worthwhile. I think it is the fourth most popular site in the country. ...

Turning to new technology, question 7, this is a matter you discuss in paragraphs 91 onwards and you refer to the new technologies which have emerged. You make the point in paragraph 93 it is important not to overlook our longstanding communication technologies, including radio. In paragraph 95 you say that it is important to distinguish between new technologies that deal with the centralised systems, such as CAP, and those that relate to individualised information. I take it from what you say here there is certainly a role for new technologies to play and it is a field that continues to develop?---I think the new technologies, in terms of delivering a message, as we were discussing, to the people at risk, have only very recently started to play a major role, but it has been quite quick and now most people in our society, I would say the majority of people by far use either a mobile phone, text, are very familiar with texting and the internet as their normal means of gaining and sending information or whatever. So we have to use them if we want to reach particular audiences and there are many variations of those modes.

Because you mention in paragraph 98 Facebook sites that are mostly post-fire, but Facebook sites, MySpace sites and in paragraph 99 the Twitter site as new technologies being used by portions of the community that ought not be overlooked?---That's right. Some of these played a role, like Twitter sites, in warnings. There is anecdotal evidence that people got warnings on Facebook because they were looking at some aspect of Facebook and suddenly some message came across. But people weren't using Facebook, as far as I can see, for warning purposes but it fulfilled that role.

At paragraph 100 you refer to phones and mobile phones and you make the point obviously they are very familiar. For landline phones, about halfway through paragraph 100, you note the technology which enables locations connected to landlines to be selected which could be used to delimit areas. That might be useful, for example, in any automated phone warning system?---Yes. That's the idea, yes.

You point out the advantages, but also the disadvantages. There may be lack of mobile phone coverage, there may be issues with phone traffic?---And there is a privacy issue with unlisted numbers and so on. But, yes.

Are you familiar with the recent announcement by the Commonwealth government to now establish a national phone automated warning system?---Yes, I am familiar with that. You refer to the common alerting protocol. It, as you mention there, is really a mode of standardising the content of warnings to ensure that it is the same over different modes of dissemination?---Yes. The common alerting protocol relates to what we were discussing a while ago, the write-it-once concept. As you say, it is a standardised message, it has a standardised format and then the idea is that this message can then be disseminated over any number of digital modes. So it has that advantage of speed and also has advantages in being able to go on multiple modes that perhaps would have to be manually uploaded in the past. ...

From: Transcript of Proceedings , 2009 Victorian Brushfires Royal Commission , TUESDAY 16 JUNE 2009, 24th day of hearing

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Australian Government Swine Flu Outbreak Web Information

Wash Hands signThere are some technical faults in the Australian Government's "Swine Flu Outbreak" web page. Below are some suggestions to fix the faults, improve the site and a general approach to improve the provision of such information online.

In a major emergency, such as a pandemic, all that the authorities can provide to the community is advice. There are not sufficient resources to provide each individual with material assistance. It is therefore important that useful advice is provided. The web would be a useful way to provide such advice, if we could to learn to use it effectively.

The Australian Government has provided some useful information online, but the formatting and arrangement of that information could be improved. Better use could be made of the web to distribute and present information. The PDF versions of information brochures could be replaced with easier to read web pages. Simple animations which demonstrate techniques such as hand washing could be created. These could be displayed on web pages and also be suitable for use on smart phones, iPods and on digital signage in schools, offices and workplaces.

The Australian Government home page provides a link for "Swine Flu Outbreak" as the second feature, after the Economic Stimulus Plan. This appears to be an appropriate level of priority. Unfortunately the link is to a web page with the vague title of "Heath Emergency" and subtitle of "H1N1 09 Outbreaks" <>. Many readers are likely to stop at this point, think they are in the wrong place. The page should have a title like that of the home page "Swine Flu Outbreak".

The web address for the page is generic, referring to "Heath Emergency", however there appears to be no provision for more than one health emergency, nor of distinguishing between them. There is also no provision for government information on other forms of emergencies. The Australian Government should establish a web address for emergencies and include health under that.

The information on the "Heath Emergency" page is not intended for the general public and is not suitable for them. The page is intended for health professionals, school administrators and business people. The page lists information for individuals and households last in a menu of seven items. It is unlikely that many people will even notice this menu item. This should be changed to put the information for individuals on top of the home page.

The "Individuals and households" has a menu at the top which lists "Personal protective equipment" as he first item. However, this is not the most important way to combat flu, which is good personal hygiene, and so should be the first item. Many people will click on "Personal protective equipment" and thus miss the first section "Protecting yourself and others".

The web address for the page contains upper and lower case text. It works with all lower case text. The mixed case will cause confusion and should be replaced. The web address is too long and should be made one third the current length.

The page has been formatted to omit the left menu when printed and prints well. The bottom of the page contains details of where to get further information. However, there is no link to state and territory health departments. There should be a link to the corresponding health department pages.

The web page failed a TAW automated web accessibility test, TAW 3.0 (6/8/09 12:51 AM) Validation conform to WAI guidelines, W3C Recommendation 5 May: 1999. There was one Priority one problem, 12 priority two and 1 priority three problems. There is a ALT text tag missing from one image on the page, which should be added. It would also be useful to offer audio and video versions of the information and in other languages.

The page scored 79/100 with the W3C mobileOK Checker, which is a good result.

The page is 53KB, with 34KB for the images. The text of the page is 16 kbytes, indicating that there is not an excessive amount of formatting used. However, the page might usefully be split into two smaller pages.

The image providing advice on hand washing is relevant and useful but should be optimised for online use.

The image is a 24 kbyte GIF file. It contains text which makes the image file unnecessarily larger and is not accessible by those using assistive technology. The image contains 203 colours, which is more than needed for a simple line drawing. If reduced to 8 colors, the image size decreases to 6 kbytes. Consideration could be given to reducing the complexity of the images, making them simple pictograms.

The web page lacks keywords, description and other metadata in the HEAD. This should be added and the irrelevant "powered by IBM Lotus Workplace Web Content Management(r) 2.0" removed.

The web page failed validation, due to the missing "ALT" on an image.

The validation also noted that:
"The character encoding specified in the HTTP header (utf-8) is different from the value in the <meta> element (iso-8859-1). I will use the value from the HTTP header (utf-8) for this validation. "
The missing ALT should be added and the character set mismatch corrected. Consideration should be given for using a later version of HTML than HTML 4.01 Transitional, for the document.

The web page contains a link to flu posters and information brochures. However, most of these are not relevant for individuals and could cause confusion and panic, with mention of protective gloves, gowns and respirators. The items on this page should be reordered to place those relevant to the general public, such as how to wash and dry hands, first and the ones for professionals lower down.

To assist the community, I had the Australian National University COMP2410 students undertake their web design assignment on a swine flu advice web site for Australia. That experience is now available, if needed.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Documentary of Newcastle 2007 Floods

MV Pasha Bulker aground June 2007 on Nobbys Beach, NSWThe multimedia documentary "A June to Remember" was produced by

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Turkish undersea railway earthquake warning system

According to International Railway Gazette, the control centre for the new Marmaray rail tunnel linking the European and Asian part of Istanbul will receive earthquake information from the Kandilli Early Warning System. The railway runs under the Bosphorus in a very earthquake prone region. The trains will be automatically stopped by the control centre when an earthquake warning is received. The tunnel is equipped with flexible joints and flood gates to protect against earthquakes. Last year I visited the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, at Bogazici University who run the earthquake warning system for Turkey and looked at their warning system and discussed how to use new technology to get emergency information out quickly. The Institute provides a very valuable service.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Open Source Disaster Management Project in Google Summer of Code

The Sahana open source disaster management system has been selected for the Google Summer of Code 2009. Students interested in particiapting, by helping develop software can obtain details at the Google Summer of Code 2009 IDEAS and Guidelines for Students Participating in Google Summer of Code 2009 for Sahana.

Mentors: If you are an active Sahana Contributor and would still like to be involved in the GSoC as a mentor, it's not too late. Please visit to register and we will also get you caught up on all pertinent information you need to know about.

A full timeline of important dates for this summer can be found here:

We look forward to seeing all the proposals that come in!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lack of an Australian emergency warning systems risking lives and wasting money

The Attorney-General and the Minister for Broadband have announced legislation to enable states to implement telephone-based emergency warning systems. This ad-hoc arrangement is no substitute for a nationally coordinated system. The decision by the federal government not to build a national system risks lives and wastes resources. Any ICT professional involved in policy, planning or implementation of such systems needs to consider if they are acting ethically and lawfully. The "Nuremberg Defense" has limited applicability to professionals, who are required to act in the public interest, regardless of the instructions they are given by their superiors.

Joint Media Release

The Hon Robert McClelland MP

Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy

23 February 2009


The Rudd Government will today introduce into Parliament amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 to enable access to the Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) for telephone-based emergency warning systems established by the States and Territories.

Access to the IPND will be provided through a new secure database which provides real-time access to up-to-date telephone numbers while protecting the identity of individuals. The Government will provide $11.3 million for this purpose. A request for tender to build the database will be issued shortly.

Telephone-based emergency warning systems have been the subject of discussions between the Commonwealth, States and Territories since 2004. Until 2008, no agreement was reached.

In 2008, the Rudd Government placed the issue on the COAG agenda. COAG agreed it was a priority and commissioned the work necessary to reach agreement by the end of 2008. This work was completed, and agreement was achieved in November 2008.

This agreement was necessary to address important concerns such as ensuring telephone-based emergency warning systems do not overload and disable the telecommunications network (including access to the 000 emergency hotline) and the security of individuals’ personal information.

In accordance with the agreement, the Government immediately commenced drafting legislation to authorise access to the IPND. The necessary legislation and database the Government is putting in place will enable the States and Territories to access the data needed to develop their own warning systems as soon as possible.

The historical advice to the Commonwealth has been that any plan to allow the States and Territories access to the IPND as part of any emergency warning system would be best secured by a legislative amendment. Nevertheless, in light of the bushfire emergency in Victoria the Government has also sought advice from the Solicitor-General on an interim measure to allow access.

Based on this advice, the Government will today also make a regulation under the Telecommunications Act 1997 enabling interim access to the IPND.

This will enable immediate access to the IPND by individual States and Territories who wish to implement a more limited system as soon as possible. It should be emphasized that this is not a long-term solution and not a substitute for amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the planned future access arrangements for the IPND.

Under the COAG agreement, States and Territories retain autonomy about the warning systems they choose to implement.

The Commonwealth has today written to the States and Territories advising that if they are able to agree to a national system at the next possible COAG meeting the Commonwealth will make a further financial contribution to establish such a system, to be owned and operated by the States and Territories.

Whether or not a national system is established, there remain technological challenges to overcome to enable any system to communicate with all telephones in a threatened area. Advice to the Government is that current technology is limited to communicating with fixed landlines, and mobile telephones on the basis of billing address only (rather than the location of the handset). This can mean individuals in a threatened area do not receive a warning on their phones, and individuals outside a threatened area receive irrelevant warnings.

To help address this gap, at the next COAG meeting the Commonwealth will offer the States and Territories financial assistance for them to conduct collaborative research on the viability of a location-based emergency warning system.

It should also be remembered that telephone-based emergency warning systems are only a supplement to, and not a replacement for, the range of measures currently used to warn the public of emergencies, such as television and radio, public address systems, doorknocking, sirens, signage and the internet.

The steps announced by the Rudd Government today will help make telephone-based emergency warning systems one part of Australia’s disaster response capability. ...

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