ICT in Disaster Management

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ICT in Disaster Management
« on: October 19, 2011, 10:58:39 AM »
By Shahidul K K Shuvra

The National ICT Policy of the country hasn't ignored the role of Information and Communication Technologies in managing and mitigating impacts of disasters like floods, cyclones, earthquakes etc. Recommendations of the policy are to save the citizens from the disaster zones by using the info-tech innovatively. The policy is yet to be implemented thoroughly and according to the policy paper the government is supposed to spend 5 per cent ADP and 2 per cent of the revenue budget for jazzing up digital infrastructures and requirements of every sector.
Few organizations in the country based on Information Communication Technology for Development, ICT4D, are experimenting with the digital devices to alert the people about imminent disasters. Years ago while cyclone Sidr was claiming the lives of 5000 to 10000 people, the organisations tried to use ICTs in managing the disaster.
Recently ferocious hurricane Irene battered New York City with a potential devastation like Katrina's on New Orleans. Two weeks ago several states of US were reported to have suffered damage during the hurricane Irene. Till posting the article people of the affected areas are facing the consequences with the aftermath of massive flooding and thousands of households are yet to get power connection again.
Before the attack of Irene, to track its paths, Google had rolled out an online map to provide useful information about the status of the storm formation. The online map had carried on forecasts to upgrade people about the hurricane; it also informed about evacuation routes and which coastal areas were in the danger of facing the attack. The search engine has another web rescuing option named `Person Finder' to locate and reunite victims of floods, earthquakes, storm etc.
Such hurricane attacks in the US increased urgency in chasing all kind of disasters with digital gadgets. We found the victims were looking for lost children and siblings on the Net. There are many online albums for missing children. Relatives were posting photos with particulars on the websites to locate their beloved persons.
Benefiting from telecommunication technology is not a new concept, but web-based applications used in rescuing Katrina victims were remarkable. Radio and TV have always played a role in informing costal people before the attacks. In 2005, after hurricane Katrina's attack, it was said that the importance of keeping a radio had revived.
In 2010, the Water Satellite of Europe provided photos of the flood zones in Pakistan; satellite data have been frequently analysed to distribute relief goods. In response to Pakistan's flood, the world's satellite fleets were mobilised to provide space-borne information under the International Charter on Space and Disasters.
ITU, International Telecommunication Union, increased effort for the reconstruction of Haiti's telecommunications and ICT infrastructure after the earthquake of 12 January, 2010. For the sake of strengthening rescue operations, it assisted Haiti to re-establish basic communication links and coordinate search and rescue operations; the communication solutions range from satellite terminals and WiMAX broadband to a mobile base station for wireless communications.
Online data base system can be one of the solutions in distributing relief among the victims. Significantly, it will boost monitoring the distribution process by the elected people's representatives and consequently, misuse of funds and relief goods will be checked.
We know that mobile phones couldn't spread to every corner of the country because all the mobile phone companies are backed by multinational companies; they are deeply involved in profit generation, so they wouldn't dare to go to backward places for lack of subscribers and technology installation cost is too high in the coastal and hilly regions compared to those in a crowded flat city like Dhaka. Therefore, besides telecommunication regulations, a government should run a part of the telecommunication sector to connect the rural people even with subsidy.
Digital mapping is a must for a modern country. In a country that possesses up-to-date mapping of a region, a rescue worker would be able to locate a victim by simply using a palmtop and a mobile phone. Digital mapping is extremely useful in finding victims in a zone where an accident occurs. Whenever a mishap takes place, rescuers can identify the place of occurrence by clicking on a handheld device. Digital mapping is a useful tool in the search for scattered people after a disaster like cyclone, hurricane and flood.
Remote sensing has taken a new turn with the installation of satellite equipment, which allows observation from a distant location and produces images to analyse what is going on exactly. Images are taken from the surface of the Earth and the photos are projected on computer monitors for zoom in.
Still we are far off from the latest remote sensing facilities. The space equipment of the remote sensing organisation, Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO), is not enough. It is associated with some satellite establishments of other countries and images from those satellites help them to carry out remote sensing operation.
A country, whether rich or not, needs donation and help from all over the world during a natural calamity. Other governments and international organisations can send donations to the victims, but general people normally face a hassle in donating money from other parts of the world; there is even a limitation in some particular countries about sending money instantly and directly. Bangladesh Bank has opened the gateway for online payment which will facilitate collecting donations and sending money to a victim directly.
More effectively IT and telecommunication experts of some developed countries could minimize some effects of disaster if they concentrated on digital device focused disaster management. Unfortunately these countries have developed IT sector for commercial use and making war technology; after the attack of 9/11 they have been developing cyber monitoring technology, which is built for cracking down on terrorists; not for dealing with calamities.
Still the government is uttering its election winning magic word `Digital Bangladesh'; according to the government, a lot of work is under way. But the last budget couldn't allot significant money for IT, telecommunication sectors, as well as for the disaster management with the digital devices. According to the current ICT infrastructure of the country, especially in the costal belt, such digital rescue operation is a myth, away from the reality.

http://www.theindependentdigital.com/all.php?opt=view&page=43&date=2011-09-09

http://www.theindependentbd.com/weekly-independent/69252-ict-in-disaster-management.html