The overall aim of this project (part of the EU funded Clim-ATIC project) was to set, test and demonstrate a modern emergency population warning system by disseminating phone-based warning messages in a specified geographic area. As far as possible and appropriate, the system is based on already available modern technology and infrastructure, and anchored to existing legislative and institutional frameworks. In order to establish a cost-effective and sustainable early warning system, multi-hazard approach is a prerequisite, to share the costs among different scopes. The system and operational activities must therefore be established within a framework that considers the warning needs of all undesirable events and hazards (natural and man-made) and the requirements of various end-users.
Four reference group meetings were held between 2008 and 2010 to set objectives and discuss the best methods and approaches to be used in the early warning system, including setting system specifications for the trial message. The telephone was recognised to be the most important medium for distributing warnings (a combination of fixed and mobile phone lines). Text messages (SMS) and spoken messages alerting the public to a natural hazard or disaster are distributed to all phones within a certain distance from the natural hazard or disaster in question. Having defined the criteria for the phone-based population warning system, the next step was identifying potential system suppliers and forwarding the system criteria for feedback as regards their interest and ability to comply with the criteria and take part in the project. After the presentation of the two potential companies, the reference group concluded that technological aspects did not seem to represent a major challenge in respect to the population warning exercise, whereas budgetary restrictions were identified as key challenges to be overcome.
Before carrying out the population warning exercise, several dissemination activities were undertaken by the County Governor’s s Office. Information about the exercise was published on the County Governor’s website, Twitter profile and Facebook account, as well as being promoted through the local newspaper and the county-wide district radio station. The warning exercise on the 10 June 2010 was held in parallel with a table-top exercise focusing on local authorities’ ability to respond to extreme weather events. Several of the reference group members attended the exercise as observers. During the test, 2,500 mobile phones received the alert as text message, 322 fixed line phones in Aurland received the alert as voice message. The warning exercise was visible on Facebook for 2 hours and received 201,849 viewings. A post-exercise survey was carried out online and a door-to-door survey was conducted in the area of Høydalen to assess the public’s thoughts on the exercise. The population warning exercise was evaluated to measure the efficiency of the warning system by combining an electronic evaluation form and a door-to-door survey.
Following the demonstration project, the warning system has not been implemented yet; neither locally nor on a national level. In recent years, the county of Sogn og Fjordane has seen numerous cases of extreme weather events such as severe land slides and flooding, in parallel with large-scale and highly dramatic fire incidents. No one has been killed in these events, but they all served as a reminder; underlining the need for a population-centered warning system with a multi-hazard approach. Hence, the County Governor of Sogn og Fjordane has argued that such a system ought to be implemented. However, no activities has followed and it is not clear if national authorities will prioritize the implementation of a warning system. In case national authorities decide against the full-scale implementation of a multi-hazard warning system, the project reference group aims to follow up the Clim-ATIC project at regional level; primarily in the county of Sogn og Fjordane. In this respect, the work will be closely developed with local / regional authorities, the health sector and relevant governmental agencies in order to assess and implement a warning system at regional level.