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A Common Alert Protocol for National Emergency Situations

During times of national emergencies, Belize faces danger from hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. These are some of the threats we face and in areas where houses are built close to each other, fire is also a hazard. We come a long way from pre independence days when information was shared at Battlefield Park in Belize City by word of mouth. That is why a workshop is being held in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Organization, the National Meteorological Service and other partners to implement the Common Alert Protocol (CAP). Eliot Christian, a consultant says CAP is a reaction to the difficulty in processing text releases when you want to deliver information on automated devices like smartphones and sirens. Christian told Love News the combination of data of the alerting area combined with text description of the area will make alerts more effective during emergencies.

Reporter: We’re speaking about SMS messages or are we talking about social media ? Or are we talking about television or radio?

Eliot Christian, Consultant, CAP: ” Those are very good examples and we cover every one of those. Yes once you have the message in the digital format it’s very straightforward to go ahead and turn that into the SMS message that goes over cellphones or what we call cell broadcasts which is even more effective and smartphone apps but also webpages, radio and television even sirens themselves so that they can pick up the content. “

Reporter: Are we talking about just general messages for the entire country or are we talking about locations where you can have fixed messages for specific areas where we have different threats?

Eliot Christian, Consultant, CAP: ” Right so this is a technology that is scalable at all of those that you mentioned so you can use this at an individual community level like with neighborhood watch, at the city level many of the products available for managing cities are already dealing with this, the local police force may well have an incident command system that is already using CAP and as we go on up to the national, regional and international and eventually global basis the same technology works across all of those much like on the web. Everybody uses HTML and Http we’re using CAP when the business is not just displaying information but displaying alerts.”

Reporter: Has this system been used before in other countries for example that may have experienced hurricanes, that is one of our biggest threats, hurricanes or tsunamis.

Eliot Christian, Consultant, CAP: “Yes this is used for hurricanes and tsunamis already international quite effectively but it’s really all hazards so it’s also used for manmade as well as natural hazards but it’s really completely up to the local folks as to how extensive they want to be in adopting this. We can do it one at at a time so if you already have it for tsunamis that is great, if the next thing you want to do is fire departments that is fine, you don’t have to do one giant system where everybody agrees on everything that is going to be done- build a piecemeal put in whatever works for you.”

Reporter: It depends on the data and end users from the different ministries, social partners and non governmental organizations right?

Eliot Christian, Consultant, CAP: “Right what we have is the concept of an alerting authority so these are the places that put out official alerts, for us that’s key we want to assure that the official alerts are available in CAP format and the more we do that the better it is for getting those alerts out through all of these other organizations such as Red Cross or NGOs.”

CAP is a web form and Christian says it is less complicated that registering to a hotel. Love News also spoke to the Minister of NEMO, Edmond Castro who believes it is of great importance to upgrade how relevant date is disseminated since the world has now turned to the smartphone as a means of communication.

Edmond Castro NEMO Minister: With this system we are coming on a worldwide scene where by we are trying to utilize this system to bring us up to speed so we will be using a common alert system to go right down to your telephone because we have a lot of youngster for example who don’t watch tv and don’t want to listen to radio but they have a cellphone. It will go through the phone company so basically if you’re on a call or whatever; it will  interrupt that for a brief moment to give you the information right in your hand as to what is going on.

Jose Sanchez: This will be audio and text.?

Edmond Castro Nemo Minster: It will be audio and text, it will go through the television station, it will go through the radio, it will take a pause and give information out.  What we are trying to reach is the most vulnerable people and we have the young population who are becoming apart of the most vulnerable they are the most vulnerable since they are not accustomed now to not watching television. Everything they want to watch is on their cell phone so we had utilized and for example the siren for the Fire Department; It is apart of an alert system. We had the Tsunami threat so we were able to use the siren from the fire trucks to go in the Yabra area to alert people that there is Tsunami threat and this and that kind of thing so we are now coming on board with this alert system that will put us on par with the rest of the world.