International Collaboration: The Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN)

Peter Ward
U.S. Geological Survey, MS501, Reston, VA 22092, USA.
Tel. : +1-703-648-4763, Fax: +1-703-648-4773,
E-mail: ward@disasterinfo.net

Rapid growth of new technologies, such as Internet and satellite communications, fosters global information sharing; remote sensing and land-based instruments provide increasing amounts of accurate data; new models provide better early warning. This information revolution offers the chance to deliver critical information to people, even in remote locations, who can take actions to reduce disaster losses. A feasibility study in the US identified many problems: potential information users are often not aware of what exists or where to find it; the data are often in incompatible formats, difficult to scale to specific needs, and of uncertain quality; tools are needed for adequate integration of the information into decision-making processes; policies are restricting the timely flow of critical information; and robust delivery of information during disasters is difficult to assure. Thousands of centres of expertise provide the information; tens of millions of people can use it. Bringing integration, co-ordination, and consensus on change in such a decentralised network will be difficult. We have been evaluating use of a public-private partnership in the US whose sole function would be to bring together representatives of all providers and users in disaster information from government and businesses to agree on ways to improve the use of disaster information for reducing disaster losses and related human suffering. We are anxious to discuss the feasibility of this approach with people from other countries who would like to improve global sharing for universal benefit.

Another study by US government warning experts is evaluating needs for policies, standards, and protocols that would enable industry to implement many different types of personal warning systems. New technologies make it feasible to install small computers in radios, televisions, telephones, or pagers to provide personalised warnings depending on the interests and location of the person. Rather than issuing a flash-flood warning within a broad region, the device could say "Flood likely in your valley." Such devices could also alert specific groups of people such as civil defence agencies or local fire fighters, medical teams, or police. A prototype is being produced in the US. By focussing warnings on only the people at risk, the warnings are much more likely to lead to appropriate action. If we could agree on standards for broadcast from satellites, radio, or TV, such systems could be available at very low cost world-wide.