The lighter side

It is now one week into the trip, and I’m in Kansas City, Missouri. Across the south side of the Missouri River, is Kansas City, Kansas. Dorothy comes from Kansas.

Let me recap. In Los Angeles I went to a bar at Manhattan Beach. Ate crab burgers, wondered at the size of the bottle collection at the bar, so big they need a ladder to reach.

Manhattan Beach Bar

Next day I travelled to Sacramento, the inland California capital. And immediately drove to San Francisco. 2 hours away. The guidebooks and all the people I spoke too, said dont park at Fisherman’s wharf, stay well away. So I did, and managed to park in the middle of the World’s biggest leather festival. I was too embarrassed to take a pic of my own but here’s a poster to help you understand.

leather festival

I fell in love with San Francisco. I loved the encouragement to ride bikes (in the worlds hilliest city?)

 Many people have said to me regularly that the US is overgoverned. I am not sure I agree, but the consumer laws have gone mad. Look at these regular street signs.

The wine bottles pretty much say if you drink this product you and your grandchildren will turn into aliens. It’s all a bit too much.

But there is always someone smiling. This bloke is a busker on Fishermans wharf. He holds a tree branch in front of his body, and frightens the bejaysus out of people walking past. Simple, but effective.

and finally this is just for Hayley – who prefers a world full of segues. Hows this for San Francisco tourist attraction?

These posts take awhile, using free hotel wifi. More later.

Warnings: “there is nothing we dont know!”

Research into warning’s has been going on for many years. In 1990 Denis Mileti and John Sorensen at Colorado State University wrote a definitive work on what we know about warnings: ” A social science perspective and state of the art assessment.”

There’s not much left out of the 166 page document: in fact when I spoke to the now retired Dennis Mileti at his home in California in May this year he said: “Ask me anything, Ian. There is nothing we don’t know.” He sounded a bit exasperated, perhaps a little impatient (Although it was dodgy phone line and late in the evening.) but many of those involved in the warnings process will have felt the same way.Dennis says he came to Australian in about 2002, and wonders if his work was heeded. Phil Campbell at NSW SES remembers the event well.

Their work is often cited. I was put onto it by Doug Paton from Tasmania, but Professor Jim Mclellan from Latrobe also suggested it was worth reading.

The summary is straight forward and still largely relevant today, 32 years later…(although digital and mobile platforms weren’t yet invented.). The following is a cut and paste, but it doesnt do justice to the strength and depth of their work.: 

More than 200 warnings systems were reviewed.

Variations in the nature and content of warnings has a large impact on whether or not the public heeds the warning. Relevant factors include the warning source, the warning channel, consistency, credibility, accuracy, understandability of the message and the warning frequency.

Characteristics of the population receiving the warning affects the response. This includes gender, ethnicity, age, social setting, stage of life or family context, psychological characteristics such as fatalism or risk perception; and knowledge such as experience or training.

Third, many current myths about public response to emergency warnings are at odds with knoweldtge derived from field investigations.Some of these myths include the “keep it simple” notion and “cry wolf syndrome” public panic and hysteria, and those concerning public willingness to respond to warnings. Finally different methods of warning the public are not equally effective at providing an alert and notification in diffferent physical and social settings. Most systems can provide a warning given three or more hours of available warning time. Special systems such as tone alert radios are needed to provide rapid warnings.” 



Can we design a more effective emergency warning system for Australia? (Research 1)

The question of course makes the claim that we dont have one at present. We have many warnings and alerts being issued by a multitude of organisations, foremost among them the Bureau of Meteorology. But a system…now that’s something different. That’s a process which is reliable, effective, robust, comprehensive, accountable.

But to answer quickly, yes we can design a more effective emergency warning system in Australia. There is plenty of research and experience in the field. There’s plenty of determination and goodwill. Even a fair bit of money.

So why do people keep dying?  And why after so many disasters,  do people keep claiming “we didn’t get warned.”

There are no simple solutions to this complex problem. Let’s instead identify some of the research, and let it sit for a while and hope that as it bubbles away and reduces, we create something sweet, compelling, nourishing.

The United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction resulted in the creation in August 1997 of the “Guiding Principles for Effective Early Warning.”

” THE OBJECTIVE of early warning is to empower individuals and communities, threatened by natural or similar hazards, to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life and damage to property, or nearby and fragile environments.”

Principles for the Application of Early Warning at National and Local Levels
1. Early warning practices need to be a coherent set of linked operational responsibilities established at national and local levels of public administration and authority. To be effective, these early warning systems should themselves be components of a broader program of national hazard mitigation and vulnerability reduction.
2. Within each country, the sole responsibility for the issuance of early warnings for natural and similar disasters should rest with an agency, or agencies, designated by the Government.
3. The decision to act upon receipt of warning information is political in character. Authoritative decision-makers should be identified and have locally-recognized political responsibility for their decisions. Normally, action resulting from warnings should be based on previously-established  disaster management procedures of organizations at national and local level.
4. In the chain of political responsibility, initial hazard information, is often technically specialized or specific to a single type of hazard authority. To be applied effectively, warnings need to be clearly understood and operationally relevant to local agencies which are more frequently oriented toward non-specific hazard functions.
5. Early warning systems must be based upon risk analysis which includes the assessment of the occurrence of hazards, the nature of their effects and prevailing types of vulnerability, at national and local levels of responsibility. The warning process must lead to demonstrated practices that can communicate warning and advisory information to vulnerable groups of people so that they may take appropriate actions to mitigating loss and damage.
6. Locally predominant hazard types and patterns, including small-scale or localized
hydrometeorological hazards related to patterns of human economic or environmental exploitation, must be incorporated if early warning is to be relevant to risk reduction practices.
7. There is a continuing need to monitor and forecast changes in vulnerability patterns, particularly at local levels, such as sudden increases in vulnerability resulting from social developments. These may include conditions of rapid urbanization, abrupt migration, economic changes, nearby civil conflict or similar elements which alter the social, economic or environmental conditions of an area.
8. The primary responsibilities must rest at local levels of involvement for producing detailed information on risks, acting on the basis of warnings, communicating warnings to those individuals at risk and, ultimately, for facilitating appropriate community actions to prevent loss and damage. A high resolution of local knowledge and developed experience of local risks, decision-making procedures, definitive authorities concerned, means of public communication and established coping strategies are essential for functions to be relevant.
9. Groups of people that exhibit different types of vulnerability will have different perceptions of risk and various coping strategies. Locally appropriate warning systems will provide a range of communication methods and should provoke multiple strategies for protection and risk reduction.
10.To be sustainable, all aspects of the design and implementation of early warning systems require the substantive involvement of stakeholders at the local and national levels. This includes production and verification of information about perceived risks, agreement on the decision-making processes involved, and standard operational protocols. Equally important abilities involve the selection of appropriate communication media and dissemination strategies which can assure an effective level of participation in acting upon receipt of warning information.



Emergency broadcasting

Emergency broadcasting began a few hours late in the day of January 21, 1997.
Homes in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges were burning, but there was no adequate and useful advice for residents confronted by the advancing flames. Three people died – I have included a tribute to them in “Great Australian Bushfire Stories.” (You can buy it online)

Emergency broadcasting will be described later, but it should now incorporate all elements of community information – radio, tv, mobile, digital; loud speaker; whatever else comes along.

There are no strict principles, although ABC Local Radio has some internal guidelines.
But we can create some of our own. The foundations would be drawn from principles of warnings; principles of broadcasting; principles of community development; and there are principles of resilience.  More on this later.

The first blog post just for background

I am interested in “emergency broadcasting” – emergency warning systems and processes.

I am off to the US and Canada after securing a Churchill Foundation 2012 Fellowship

I felt the best way to report back from the US was to do so online. I opted for a blog, rather than Tumblr as it has many longer term features I might one day feel are useful.

I hope this is an interactive site where others interested in emergency broadcasting can comment, advise, direct, vent (nicely, no swearing), question and puzzle-out-loud with me.

I searched for quick n easy blogs; came across Fatcow, paid $172 via credit card, with very little understanding of what I was doing, (and with a promise of a few dollars more every month,) and three hours later I am here…trying to create content. I have used the “live chat” to Fatcow a few times already and they were very helpful, quick and easy to use.

Another hour later and I’ve worked out a few more things. need to ensure I’ve authorised any comments before they are loaded; lost the front page somewhere; worked out how to make a link, and well, that’s it really.

Except later good friend Redsultana offered to tidy things up. It’s always good to work in partnerships!