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Better warned, better protected

It's good to see development of the NDIS that uses mobile phones, landlines and wireless systems to relay disaster warnings across the country.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 00:35 IST

It is good to see the development of the Natural Disaster Information System (NDIS) that uses mobile phones, landlines and wireless public address systems to relay disaster warnings across the country in local languages. We had earlier advocated in one of our editorials the need to develop systems based on GSM technology to identify cellphone users in a particular area so that they could be warned before natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Jointly developed by Geneva Software Technologies and the Ministry for Science and Technology, the NDIS will be linked with all service providers so that the Disaster Management Cell can route alerts raised by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) as text messages to mobiles and through wireless public address systems.

Since the GSM cellphone standard already enables phones to receive short data messages from cellphone base stations on a separate channel from normal voice and text message communications, it is only logical for the system to double as a disaster warning service. Unlike voice communications that could be clogged up in emergencies, text messages still get through. The NDIS is a major step towards putting in place a tsunami alert system expected to be operational by next September, which will give people in coastal areas adequate warning before potentially deadly waves strike, as happened during the Asian tsunami disaster.

Having said that, mobile phones should form only part of an overall warning system strategy. Given that multiple warning systems are imperative for effective communication of alerts to the maximum number of people, the NDIS should be augmented with other warning systems like sirens and emergency broadcasts on radio and television. Also, the authorities must ensure strong authentication mechanisms for SMS messages as these are always vulnerable to malicious hoaxes.