Opinion

The Great Debate

from The Great Debate UK:

How social media can play a major role in disaster forecasting and recovery

--Julian Hunt is Visiting Professor at Delft University of Technology and the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre. Joy Pereira is Deputy Director of SEADPRI, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The opinions expressed are their own.--

The UN Climate Change Summit in Qatar will be negotiating levels of funding for adaptation against climate change. Social media, which can reduce impacts of disasters through community involvement and improved real-time management, must receive effective and rapid use of such funds.

Social media is increasingly joining public broadcasts and targeted radio messages as a means for central organisations, including government, to communicate forecasts and advisory information to people in affected areas ahead of a disaster, and effective advice during and after one.

Satellite observations and computer predictions may make accurate real-time forecasting of factors such as wind, waves and flooding possible several days ahead of the tracks of tropical cyclones, but, as with Nagi, which devastated Burma in 2010, thousands of casualties can occur in the poorest remote communities because there are no telecommunications providing warnings based on them. Many countries are now strengthening the structures that support such communication systems.

The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards in Manila is using mobile phones during the course of disasters in the Philippines to allow expert centres to receive informal observations from individuals.

from The Great Debate UK:

Strong storms could be even more dangerous in future

--Lord Hunt is a Visiting professor at Delft University, and former Director-General of the UK Met Office. The opinions expressed are his own.--

Sandy has been called, by some, the ‘perfect storm’ and the storm of the century’.  But there are reasons to believe that strong storms could be even more dangerous in the future.

Normally, if storms move inland they lose strength rapidly. However, in this case Sandy met a cold front to the North West and high pressure to the North East.  It is because of these interactions that the winds and rain extended over such a wide area; although the storm was downgraded from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone just before making landfall, the geographic spread remained around 800-900 miles wide from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes and the Mid-West.  Moreover, some winds remained sustained at around 80 miles per hour.

Japan shows another side of the press

JAPAN-QUAKE/LEAKAGE

By Anya Schiffrin
The opinions expressed are her own.

Sitting in Japan in the days after the Friday earthquake and watching the official broadcaster NHK cover the disaster has been an unusual experience. There has been the typical blanket television coverage of this tragedy but the flavor of the reporting is different than it would be in the U.S. “Restrained” is how one friend described it. Over and over we’ve seen the same awful footage of the enormous dirty wave sweeping up cars and houses as it inches slowly along the land.

There are the inevitable interviews with displaced people and experts in their offices. But there are very few graphics or charts, no catchy logos and certainly no dead or injured on the screen. Just as U.S. presidents take off their ties when they visit the troops, Japanese officials appearing on television wear the blue uniforms of someone doing physical labor but with their logo of their ministry or office sewn on their pocket. “It’s theatre” a Japanese friend said dismissively as we watched television last night. But the purposefulness and determination of the government officials were evident — and even my skeptical friend agreed that this commitment would be well-received by the electorate.

At Columbia University we recently began a study with Professor Jairo Lugo in the UK comparing the New York Times and UK Guardian’s coverage of natural disasters. One thing that was immediately clear is how quickly newspaper coverage of natural disasters becomes coverage of the state. This is so even in the US where there is long standing skepticism about the state, and — these days — a widespread view that the government should play a limited role.

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