The question of course makes the claim that we dont have one at present. We have many warnings and alerts being issued by a multitude of organisations, foremost among them the Bureau of Meteorology. But a system…now that’s something different. That’s a process which is reliable, effective, robust, comprehensive, accountable.

But to answer quickly, yes we can design a more effective emergency warning system in Australia. There is plenty of research and experience in the field. There’s plenty of determination and goodwill. Even a fair bit of money.

So why do people keep dying?  And why after so many disasters,  do people keep claiming “we didn’t get warned.”

There are no simple solutions to this complex problem. Let’s instead identify some of the research, and let it sit for a while and hope that as it bubbles away and reduces, we create something sweet, compelling, nourishing.

The United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction resulted in the creation in August 1997 of the “Guiding Principles for Effective Early Warning.”

” THE OBJECTIVE of early warning is to empower individuals and communities, threatened by natural or similar hazards, to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life and damage to property, or nearby and fragile environments.”

Principles for the Application of Early Warning at National and Local Levels
1. Early warning practices need to be a coherent set of linked operational responsibilities established at national and local levels of public administration and authority. To be effective, these early warning systems should themselves be components of a broader program of national hazard mitigation and vulnerability reduction.
2. Within each country, the sole responsibility for the issuance of early warnings for natural and similar disasters should rest with an agency, or agencies, designated by the Government.
3. The decision to act upon receipt of warning information is political in character. Authoritative decision-makers should be identified and have locally-recognized political responsibility for their decisions. Normally, action resulting from warnings should be based on previously-established  disaster management procedures of organizations at national and local level.
4. In the chain of political responsibility, initial hazard information, is often technically specialized or specific to a single type of hazard authority. To be applied effectively, warnings need to be clearly understood and operationally relevant to local agencies which are more frequently oriented toward non-specific hazard functions.
5. Early warning systems must be based upon risk analysis which includes the assessment of the occurrence of hazards, the nature of their effects and prevailing types of vulnerability, at national and local levels of responsibility. The warning process must lead to demonstrated practices that can communicate warning and advisory information to vulnerable groups of people so that they may take appropriate actions to mitigating loss and damage.
6. Locally predominant hazard types and patterns, including small-scale or localized
hydrometeorological hazards related to patterns of human economic or environmental exploitation, must be incorporated if early warning is to be relevant to risk reduction practices.
7. There is a continuing need to monitor and forecast changes in vulnerability patterns, particularly at local levels, such as sudden increases in vulnerability resulting from social developments. These may include conditions of rapid urbanization, abrupt migration, economic changes, nearby civil conflict or similar elements which alter the social, economic or environmental conditions of an area.
8. The primary responsibilities must rest at local levels of involvement for producing detailed information on risks, acting on the basis of warnings, communicating warnings to those individuals at risk and, ultimately, for facilitating appropriate community actions to prevent loss and damage. A high resolution of local knowledge and developed experience of local risks, decision-making procedures, definitive authorities concerned, means of public communication and established coping strategies are essential for functions to be relevant.
9. Groups of people that exhibit different types of vulnerability will have different perceptions of risk and various coping strategies. Locally appropriate warning systems will provide a range of communication methods and should provoke multiple strategies for protection and risk reduction.
10.To be sustainable, all aspects of the design and implementation of early warning systems require the substantive involvement of stakeholders at the local and national levels. This includes production and verification of information about perceived risks, agreement on the decision-making processes involved, and standard operational protocols. Equally important abilities involve the selection of appropriate communication media and dissemination strategies which can assure an effective level of participation in acting upon receipt of warning information.