Tonga boosts early warnings via smartphones

The Kingdom of Tonga continues to develop its early warning systems through the Tonga Mobile Application Community Response and Response (MHEW) system (MACRES).

As climate change causes more frequent, extreme and unpredictable weather events, investing in early warning systems that target multiple hazards is more urgent than ever. Since the unprecedented volcano and tsunami disaster of January 15, 2022 in the Kingdom of Tonga, and the ensuing state of emergency for nearly a year, the people of Tonga have been tragically aware of the dangers and risks she faces. This is all the more true as recent scientific studies conducted by the National Institute for Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) indicate that the volcano is still active below the sea surface and that new eruptions with risk tsunamis remain.

Through the Tonga Meteorological Service (TMS) and the Permanent Representative to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the people of Tonga have requested an improved system for rapid and massive dissemination of warnings to communities. The Tonga MACRES will be developed to meet this demand through the Accelerated Support Window (ASW) initiative of the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative.

“MACRES is an information system aimed at significantly improving early warning and rapid response to hazards and disasters. I sincerely hope that this initiative can be replicated and contribute to the development of early warning systems, especially in vulnerable regions of the world. We welcome the positive consideration of this request by the CREWS Steering Committee,” said ‘Ofa Fa’anunu, the Permanent Representative of Tonga.

“The initiative will build on existing platforms to improve Tonga’s ability to disseminate and share risk information, advisories and warnings, and responses to them, among the people of the Kingdom. of Tonga, including women, men, youth, people with disabilities in the vicinity – in real time for all hydro-meteorological and geological hazards, especially for rapid onset events,” said Henry Taiki, representative of WMO for the South West Pacific.

The CREWS ASW is a new dedicated funding mechanism for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), allocating funds for expert analysis, assessments and targeted short-term advisory services to strengthen early warning systems. The ASW was approved by the CREWS Steering Committee at its 12e meeting in November 2020. It is now time to contribute to the UN Secretary-General’s call for all people to be protected by early warning systems within five years – an effective measure to adapt to change climatic.

The importance of these efforts is also highlighted in UNDRR’s recent report, The Global State of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning System – Target G, which was launched on 13 October 2022 on the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR).

In another region also heavily affected by hazards and benefiting from early warning systems, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and UNDRR are hosting a webinar on early warnings. The webinar, “Early Warning and Early Action for All: Focus in the Caribbean Region” will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Panama time on October 13. Those interested can follow this link to register.

The Tonga MACRES will be set up so that most smartphones can be used and the warnings will not need internet data to reach people. Alerts or sirens and warning messages or flashing screens will attract the attention of users (especially for people with disabilities). It also enables two-way communication of community reports (crowd sourcing) connected to a database to enable the TMS and the National Emergency Management Office, for both, to receive both hazard and damage information. for a quick and targeted response.

The project will build on existing TMS Community Facebook Pages (CFBP) to disseminate warnings to communities with the assistance of authorized TMS officers assigned to each community, having direct access to CFBP and assisting in disseminating warnings to communities . The CFBP requires authorized TMS officers to monitor CFBP warnings and notify the communities to which they belong by working with their district and village committees. This approach works well, but experiences from the January 15, 2022 disaster have proven its limitations in rapid onset events where communities need to be notified with much less time than usual. Currently, Tonga has limited alert broadcasting capability to notify large numbers of communities in near real time of rapid onset events. It also has greater limitations in its ability to quickly receive disaster information for communities to aid in response.

Tonga’s mobile phone geographic coverage is approximately 92%. The project will help to disseminate and allow all UoMTs to have direct access to alerts. Apps features will allow to use 5 types of smartphones, no internet data requirement for warning reaching UoMT, siren alert to indicate warning messages for UoMT with visual impairment, flashing screen for the UoMT with a hearing impairment. It will also allow the UoMT to prepare and send reports to TMS and NEMO.

Tonga is one of the first to benefit from ASW but it will not be the last. With the IDDRR 2022, the Target G report and the Early Warnings for All initiative all focused on early warnings, more effective funding like that provided to Tonga MACRES will become even more crucial to globally protect more lives. and livelihoods.

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