Disaster Early Warning System – Can We Build It?


Tornado detection and warnings IN THE PAST –  warnings for natural disasters such as tornadoes, lightning storms, floods, tsunamis, or earthquakes, first came when a person saw looming danger in the nearby sky, watched water rise around them, or felt the ground move from under their feet.   

For most of mankind’s history, this is the way natural disasters were detected.  This method of detection gave very little opportunity for people to seek shelter and avoid death or injury.   Unfortunately, for most people in today’s world, this is still the only means of detecting and reacting to the occurrence of disasters. Even in modern “industrial” information economies we still have only rudimentary warning mechanisms for weather related disasters and no systems in place for warnings of seismic or other disasters to general populations.  

Disasters occur in all countries around the world with great regularity.  They are an accepted fact of life for all the peoples of the world. Natural disasters occur at unpredictable times and in unpredictable ways and have led to an acceptance of the results. As individuals, our main strategies are to hope we are lucky enough to avoid their occurrence, or failing this to mitigate the effects of the disasters by building stronger and safer structures for protection.  

Neither our hopes for luck nor our efforts to build stronger shelters have proved altogether successful. Most experts claim that the world’s population is at an ever-increasing risk of death, injury, and property damages from natural disasters.  As population and housing densities increase, the world will continue to experience ever increasing danger and damages from natural disasters.  Deaths, injuries, and loss of property will continue to increase around the world from the effects of natural disasters unless changes are made in the manner we respond.

  TECHNOLOGY  IS NOW AVAILABLE – Over the last several decades’ scientists have made great strides in understanding the causative effects of these natural disasters that so impact lives. Much of the mystery surrounding these events is now gone. Although we cannot yet predict these disasters with any degree of confidence, we now have the technical ability to detect and track them with a great deal of accuracy. Most modern societies have begun development of networks of sensors to detect the occurrence of these disasters.  

For example; the USA has in place a large scale system of lightning detectors that can sense and record a wide variety of real time information about lightning strikes occurring over most of the country. There is in place or currently under construction a national system of Doppler radar installations which were primarily designed for airline traffic safety but also are well able to detect, track, and record the exact movement, direction, and magnitude of tornadoes.  

The USA also has in place a large system of ocean buoys and a satellite network that is able to detect even minor changes in ocean heights to track the movement of tsunami’s through the oceans of the earth. A national system of rainfall gauges is also able to measure real time rainfall amounts over large portions of the continental USA. A significant number of seismographic devices are currently in place in seismically active portions of the country to detect in real time all earthquakes as they occur.   

These  technologies  are tested, currently available, and in place in various locations, to detect these natural disasters as they occur in real time.  Analog sensors and detectors have made the same tremendous advances in sophistication and sensitivity that we have seen in the digital arena during the last twenty years.  Our ability to “see” the world and natural events around us has been greatly extended and enhanced with these new  technologies . We now no longer need be restricted to viewing the nearby sky with our eyes to see the danger from weather events. We no longer have to wait for the ground under our feet to move to know that an earthquake has happened nearby.

A PARADIGM SHIFT IS NEEDED  –  We have witnessed an amazing transformation in our technical ability to detect, analyze, and communicate information about natural disasters during the last two decades.  In the digital world of computers, we have seen a tremendous increase in the amount and type of data that is available.   This same huge increase in “data” is also now available from the various analog sensor/detector  technologies .   Data from a wide variety of sources is now easily obtainable with current  technologies . We can now detect in real time a wide variety of natural disasters as they occur.  

A correspondingly large increase in the capabilities of today’s modern communication  technologies  also allows virtually instantaneous transfer of this information from anywhere to anywhere in the world.  All of the “data” that we can now collect on natural disasters must first be converted to “information” in real time as it happens.  The analysis of this data must be completely automated and done in real time to eliminate human errors and wasted time.   Finally, the information concerning these natural disasters must be communicated in real time without error or false alarms to provide advanced warnings to the maximum number of potentially impacted users that is possible.  When this is accomplished, we will have an effective warning system for natural disasters.

WHAT WE “KNOW” ABOUT NATURAL DISASTERS 1)  We know disasters cannot be predicted in advance of the actual occurrence. 2) We know the  technology  exists to detect these natural disasters as they first occur. 3) We know the  technology  exists to measure and record the magnitude, intensity, speed, and direction of these disasters in almost real time. 4) We know a multitude of actions that can be taken to lessen and mitigate the damaging effects of natural disasters if we can provide effective advanced warnings. 5) We know that we can save many more lives and greatly reduce injuries and property damages with a more effective system of advanced warnings for natural disasters.


Source by John P. Flanagan

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