(No.92) The role of Internet-based services for the Disaster Communications

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Status: 
Accepted
Workshop Theme: 
Emerging Issues
Theme Question: 

Question 4

Concise Description of Workshop: 

In recent years, during and post disaster period, Internet based services are increasingly used among the devastated people and those who try to rescue and help restoration works.

During the East Japan Great earthquake, a victim in Kesen-numa city sent a mobile email to his family in London calling for immediate rescue. With several retweets on twitter, it reached at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government who then sent helicopters the next morning and saved 446 people who all stayed on the roof surrounded by water and fire overnight. Some service platforms such as Google Personfinder, Sahana and Ushahidi were used after the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand.
Yet in many cases, however, the destruction was so huge that power lines were lost and the communication networks were severely damaged, causing the whole “vacuum of information and communication”. It is only after the infrastructures are recovered, that most rescue teams, governments and NGOs and citizens could start to use Internet based services to dispatch, seek and find information they need.
In this workshop, we will examine how Internet-based communication services were utilized during these disasters, what are the lessons learned, Some case studies and comparative analysis of traditional medium such as TV and newspaper and social network will be discussed. The workshop will focus on the way forward, how we should prepare for any large-scale disaster globally - what type of solutions actually work (government support, free-spectrum, etc).
 
Agenda
1. Introduction
2. Lessons learned from the East Japan Great Earthquake: report from the Information Behavior Study (see background paper)
3. The role of Internet-based services and traditional media for disaster management
4. Solutions and work-in-progress - sharing best practices
5. Conclusion
 

Backgroung Paper: 
Organiser(s) Name: 

Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) [Technical community]
Airputih Foundation, Indonesia [Civil Society]
Asosiasi Penyelenggara Jasa Internet Indonesia (Indonesia ISP Association, APJII) [Business/Technical community]
China Education and Research Network (CERNET) [Technical Community]
DotAsia Organization [Business/Technical Community]
Japan Internet Provider Association (JAIPA) [Business]
Information Support pro bono Platform (iSPP) [Civil Society]

Previous Workshop(s): 

Yes

Submitted Workshop Panelists: 

Mr. Valens Riyadi, Founder, Airputih Foundation, Head of National Internet Registry Indonesian ISP Association (APJII) [Confirmed]
Mr. Toshiaki Tateishi, Vice Chairperson, Japan Internet Providers Association (JAPIA) [Confirmed] - as subsitute to Ms. Shibuya
Kurt Erik Lindqvist, CEO, Netnod, [Confirmed]
Ben Scott, Advisor, Open Technology Institute, The New America Foundation, [Confirmed]
Moderator:
Izumi Aizu, Co-Director, Information Support pro bono Platform, Japan  [Confirmed]

Name of Remote Moderator(s): 
Ms. Sylvia Cadena, Program Officer for the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) at the Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) [Confirmed]
Gender Report Card
Please estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session: 
There were very few women participants
To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment?: 
It was not seen as related to the session theme and was not raised
Please include any comments or recommendations you have on how to improve the inclusion of issues related to gender equality and: 

Though the number of the women in the room were not half, it was not too few either, and they actively participated in the discussion.
There are certain dimensions of gender related issues for disaster relief works, the use of ICT are not [yet] applied to these issues in general.
 

Report
Reported by: 
Izumi Aizu
A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were raised: 

 
Izumi Aizu, Co-director of the Information Support Pro Bono Platform (iSPP) started with a brief presentation of what happened in Japan after the East Japan Great Earthquake. First he told “seeing is believing”, showing several pictures of the devastated areas he visited after three weeks of Tsunami, he said being there and watching on TV or reading newspapers or twitters are very different experience.
 
He then talked about “information vacuum” meaning those inside the devastated areas could have little means to send and receive information they need. According to the survey on devastated people’s information behavior conducted by iSPP in July 2011, only radio was found to be useable among most devastated people in affected areas right after quake and Tsunami. Mobile phones, Internet connection, TV, dropped almost half or less from normal usage due to infrastructure damage, traffic congestion, and power black-out. He continued to explain the survey results in detail including what kind of information the victims wanted (but could not get), the different realities between coastal areas hit by Tsunami and inland areas hit by the quake, but not damaged by water.
 
He also noted that while twitter and other new social network services worked in Tokyo metropolitan areas, people in the devastated areas relied more on convenional medium such as radio, TV and newspapers,  He also mentioned the importance of the multi-stakeholder activities, cooperation between government, business and civil society in such huge crisis situation.
 
Toshiaki Tateishi, Vice  Chairperson of Japan Insternet Service Providers Association (JAIPA), first reported his own experience during the East Japan Great Earthquake.  Since his hometown and business base, Tokushima, is located in the west part of Japan, they had little damage from the quake directly.  He was also in Tokyo at the time of the quake and experienced the power cut.
He then described the recovery efforts after the quake including use of satellite broadband and importance of having emergency power that lasts at least 72 hours. For effective disaster management, he noted, some system used for daily communication, such as live web cams in the coastal areas for tourists, could become emergency monitoring and alert system and they are working on this project.  A cloud based emergency information sharing system using common API was also being promoted in Japan, he reported.
 
Mr. Valens Riyadi, head of AirPuthi foundation from Indonesia shared his activities for disaster management using ICT since 2004 Ache Tsunami. He first flew to the disaster area five days after the tsunami where when he saw dead bodies anywhere in terrible condition. They flew with Australian Air Force with six IP engineers, went there to help with IT skills not like regular other people like Red Cross or some other relief organizations. They faced electricity problem and could cover only limited areas such as the hospital or the Government buildings and  some refugee camps.  They built local networks in disaster areas and one month after the disaster, 15 hot spot areas were built where journalists and also humanitarian staffs.
 
Later, they got full packages of gears for base network and expanded the network, connected the university and other institutions  with Wi-Max technology.  They also set up a special 4 digit SMS numbers for people to share messages on the Internet, they could ask questions or inform their status after the disaster.
 
Mr. Riyadi and his team further continued the ICT for disaster activities, created early warning system application with connecting station with meteorology data, expanded ICT support activities for the disaster relief across the country since Indonesia has many disasters. He shared their experience with volcano in 2010, helped people to evacuate before the second eruption, use of twitter helped 100,000 refugees for their breakfast meal within few hours of evacuation provided  by village people.  One home maybe could donate 20 boxes of food or some other thing.  And on the next day, they managed to get food for all of the refugees, indicating a really good example how social media can help us on the disaster.  The ISP association also made a programme to establish temporary FM radio station to disseminate information to the people in the disaster area, in the refugee camps. 
 
 
Mr. Kurt Erik Lindqvist, CEO of Netnod Internet Exchange shared the Swedish experience in 2005 when Sweden was hit by a very unusual hurricane. The salt in the heavy rain might affect a nuclear power plant to cause short-circuit, and took out the power supply in the southern and southwest part of Sweden. I addition, a lot of the power and telecommunication cable were damaged by the storm which led 340,000 households without power. Those affected could not send their status to major cities because of communication loss. Mr. Lindqvist said one important lesson is that people's behavior has changed when it comes to accessing information. The people's behaviors for how to access information today is that you would go on line and you take reload and see if there is any information, you keep clicking reload.
 
He told that it all came down to very physical damage,  and the hard part was how to you repair these cables since  Sweden has only 9 million people, and one of the biggest problems was that there wasn't enough people that were trained to actually repair the high voltage power and phone lines.  He explained that it was an enormous amount of forest that had fallen on the roads and the repair teams couldn't get out until the rescue service managed to clear the roads, not even the Army could be of much help because the trees were so immense.
 
Mr. Lindqvist reported that this disaster experience led to revival of a crisis management group composed of military, the power company, communication people et cetera. They also started trainings and in 2009 they had the first major exercise where all of the carriers and Internet exchange point and a few others were involved in simulating a terrorist attack for 36 hours and in 2011 this was repeated again simulating a breakage of a water dam in northern Sweden. Another exercise is scheduled to take place in 2013.
 
Mr. Ben Scott, Senior Advisor to the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, shared a story about how to create the tools that can be used in a disaster scenario, Commotion Wireless project.  He has been a part of a group that began with the question: What do you do when you don't have the internet and you need it? Mr. Scott explained three use cases this group came up with:  1) there is no network because there has been a natural disaster and the existing infrastructure has been destroyed; 2) you are a political dissident in a country where it is dangerous to use the internet and a telecommunication service that is heavily surveiled by security services and you need some off network solution to communicate with the rest of the world; 3) there are network services available, but you cannot afford them. It's too expensive.  So you need a lower cost communication service that is built by the community for the community. 
 
Mr. Scott explained that the new technology was developed about ten years ago by some graduate students who were primarily sitting in use case# 3: We had no money and we wanted to have internet access.
 
They came up with sharing DSL connection and put antennas on the rooftop, developed a protocol for an open source ad hoc wireless mesh network that would allow one connection to packet between all of the antennas on the system using Wi‑Fi frequencies exclusively. This project is now known as the Commotion Wireless project and received several million dollars of support from the U.S. State Department to advance the cause of internet freedom around the world.
 
It is called “software as infrastructure”. An Android version is in development.  The software would begin to communicate peer to peer and form a network, a highly redundant, resilient network that would have multiple paths of communicating across the network and if any of us had an Internet connection, it would also share the Internet connection across the system. The beta version will be released in the early part of next year. 
 
Mr. Scott mentioned that he studied successful disaster relief communications efforts and found that they all follow a similar model:  essentially it's a straight forward solution, find an Internet connection somewhere that's still live and take a point to point link as with as much capacity as you carry and you beam that connectivity as close to the disaster site you can and then you share that connectivity out in some way either through a series of hot spots. All of these institutions connected via Commotion network can get access to the same network using the mesh protocol.
 
Discussion
 
Mr. Riyadi emphasized the importance of the preparedness and also exercises, as one of the lessons he learned from his trip to Japan.  He also pointed out that the coordination must happen before the disaster as it's very difficult to make the coordination after the disaster if we are not prepared. 
 
Mr. Lindqvist responded that anyone in Sweden was prepared for the extent of damages and the amount of trees fallen, but one thing they learned was to get the Army out, because the Army has much more stronger utility vehicles than any of the others have and that lessen was used afterward in bad snow conditions in the north.
 
Mr. Scott said the idea of Commotion Network came out of the community network initiative to build their own autonomous networks, instead of hub and spoke model networks, built and operated by the community. He said it was started in the US, but now deployed across the globe including Austria, Greece, and Ghana.
 
Ms. Sylvia Cadena, remote moderator, Program Officer for the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) at the Asia Pacific Network Information Center, expressed her own concern that people’s interest or attention would fade out over time no matter how new and better technologies being innovated, especially since her visit to Japan she felt that vulnerability.
 
A lady from the audience asked why the focus is on the Internet, as opposed to mobile and SMS.
 
Mr. Scott showed some effective uses of SMS on mobile after the Haiti earthquake. He added that SMS and email, or mobile and Internet are complementary. The SMS mapping capabilities using basic Ushahidi platforms were successful not just in the immediate aftermath, but in months afterward those continued to be used, he said. He agreed that when the user base is more comfortable with SMS, then it can be more important tool for expanding the number of people that are accessing the technology. He also pointed out that the IP network is the easiest technology we can deploy right now.
 
A person from Norway made three questions: 1) use of Voice over IP for Commotion Network, 2) Commotion Network for the use of first respondent, and 3) possibility of enhancing traditional emergency networks with IP capability
 
Mr. Scott replied: 1) Yes to VOIP which runs on the Commotion platform.  2) First responders had a lot of interest in this new technology, and 3) first responders actually want to be equipped with a truck loaded with all necessary communication gears and power generators capable of handling all necessary communication applications on site.
 
Ms. Cadena shared some ongoing ISIF projects in Asia: Dumbo, using elephants to deploy mesh networks in Thailand for disaster relief works, and other programs in n Indonesia and Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam. She emphasized that there are a lot of solutions out there pushing the boundaries of innovation, and it is really important that we try our best to put them together and to see what the exchange of information and flow can provide.
 
The last part of the session was the discussion about the important of the exercises and simulations. Mr. Tateishi mentioned about the tsunami evacuation exercises in schools in Japan, and Mr. Aizu explained his new program of 72-hour real-life training exercises being prepared.

Conclusions and further comments: 

 
Members in the room agreed the need for preparation, coordination, skills, capacity building and sharing of experience.
 

  • We should look for ways to use and test technologies that will be useful in disaster relief in times when there are no disasters so that people are comfortable and knowledgeable about ad hoc communications because they have used them in moments when there wasn't an emergency.
  • The preparedness is the most important thing. 
  • The next one is sharing the information like this session.
  • The third one is the IP network is the cheapest, and so many devices we have that is only media, I think.  But we have to depend on big tower.
  • Many things happen beyond the preparation, beyond the prior assumption and many people got stuck and don't know what to do within these assumptions. That’s what happened in Japan, particularly in the case or nuclear power plant failure and tsunami disaster.  We must be prepared beyond these assumptions.
  • For that, we need different kinds of exercise from conventionally accepted preparations using the most of ICT capabilities.

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Reporter's note:
Thought the number of the people in the room were rather small, less than 20, the density of the discussion was quite high, informative and useful. We had exchanged good practices each other.
I like to thank all who came to the room, and especially to the panel members.
 
 
 

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