The earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011 in Japan triggered a subsequent tsunami as well as a nuclear power plant catastrophe. Typhoon Morakot, which struck Taiwan in 2009, passed through northern Taiwan but brought torrential rains to central and southern Taiwan. The major damage as well as loss of life caused by these compounded natural disasters clearly demonstrates the importance of the integration of disaster-prevention information at the national level. At the Smart City Forum organized by Digitimes, the National Science & Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR) announced its latest progress, which includes integrating government resources through its internally-developed Disaster Response and Decision Support System (EOCDSS) as well as the Standardized Information Format for Disaster Alerts; quick communication of disaster-related information will be conducted via NCDR's "Public Disaster Alert Information Platform," and development of related hardware and software industries will be carried out in cooperation with the private sector.
Current scenarios for the application of smart disaster prevention include natural disaster alerts, disaster response and relief, human safety and protection, community protection and safety, industrial area disaster prevention, as well as key facility protection, etc. Functions of the solutions must include remote environment monitoring, real-time transmission of information, disaster prevention alerts, damage analysis and evaluation, decision support, disaster relief as well as positioning and monitoring, scheduling and dispatching of personnel and resources, as well as integration of geographic information with cloud applications. While most people believe that disaster prevention can be performed by other institutions, the NCDR tends to focus on the alert and response processes for natural disasters. Based on developmental trends, smart disaster prevention services can be divided into data services and smart services.
According to Wen-Ray Su, Associated Research Fellow, NCDR (National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction) during relief efforts for the Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake as well as during Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan was still in the data services phase, which means it focused on the establishment of infrastructural facilities as well as observation stations/networks, and transmitted data via dial-up network connections or manual transmissions. With the availability of broadband networks, disaster data can now be transmitted via the information services systems in real-time and converted into useful early-warning data. Currently, the situations in various locations can be viewed on a single map, and discussions regarding how to carry out disaster response operations can be conducted. Furthermore, with the widespread development and availability of wireless communications technologies, such as WiFi and 3G, the range of smart services has expanded, allowing people to use apps such as Twitter on their mobile phones to transmit messages. In the future, we may even be able to form an Internet of Things (IoT) connecting hardware and software and conduct Big Data analyses, thereby quickly grasping the on-site situation at disaster sites in order to respond and conduct rescue operations.
Take earthquakes for example: although current technology does not allow us to predict earthquakes, if we are able to take advantage of real-time information through the smart disaster prevention network at the time an earthquake occurs as well as transmit this information to users and conduct automatic disaster prevention control (such as turning off the power and natural gas in our homes), we would be able to effectively reduce the number of casualties as well as damage to industries. Especially since Taiwan possesses mature network infrastructures and well-developed ICT industries, if we could develop various integrated disaster prevention control systems, we would be able to create "1+1>2" effects in terms of disaster prevention and response.
From 2003 to 2007, Japan carried out its national emergency earthquake notification system program, and in 2007, the Japanese prime minister announced that emergency earthquake notifications to the general public had been fully implemented by government agencies and in various civilian applications. In the 2008 Iwate earthquake as well as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, the notification system worked successfully, allowing Japanese citizens to obtain alert information through television, the Internet, mobile phone messages, and disaster-prevention radio broadcasts. Taiwan's emergency alert systems begin with schools. In addition to being able to issue alerts regarding regional earthquakes as well as provide on-site monitoring information within 20 seconds of an earthquake, it can also trigger school-wide alarms via wired or wireless transmissions, allowing schools with or without on-site observation stations to be able to immediately notify its students as well as faculty of the occurrence of an earthquake.
Three problems that urgently need to be solved in terms of smart disaster prevention and response integration
However, Wen-Ray Su also admitted that the smart disaster prevention and response effort currently faces three major problems:
1. From a legal perspective, since sources of data are becoming more diverse, the usage of collected data is subject to more rules and restrictions. People are very wary of how their information is handled and used, and any unauthorized use or publication of information is strictly prohibited. This is why we need a set of common data processing standards and regulations.
2. From a technical perspective, Taiwan's electronics industry is good at providing single products and solutions, such as front-end sensor components or intermediate-level networking technologies, but it lacks the ability to produce integrated applications, which makes it difficult to demonstrate the value of certain products. Furthermore, disaster prevention network systems are mostly independently designed and lack interoperability and integration. Looking forward, cross-industry integration capabilities will need to be strengthened.
3. In terms of applications, products must be able to operate under extreme conditions and in harsh environments, which is why backup solutions are required in order to ensure that messages can indeed be sent when needed. In addition, through the integrated platform, we will be able to provide information with additional value so that various types of safety and disaster prevention applications can be developed.
Wen-Ray Su went on to stress the importance of Big Data, especially the ability to collect large amounts of information, absorb it, digest it, filter it, and then convey simplified information that can provide real value. Currently, government institutions already have the ability to collect information in a timely fashion and issue alerts during natural disasters. The next step will be to integrate that information through a unified platform, allowing the general public to quickly understand the situation.
This is why the NCDR developed the CEOC support system in 2010, which can perform integration of disaster response information. Information that can be used in disaster response efforts is collected from various sources, consolidated, organized, and then presented in a manner that the central disaster response center can use to rapidly execute a response. Currently, monitored information from more than 20 central government agencies as well as nearly 120 items of Big Data are used in the system. The integrated typhoon local application module has been under development since 2011 in order to expand services to local areas, as well as to assist city and county governments and volunteer teams in disaster prevention operations. Furthermore, the NCDR's Public Disaster Alert Information Platform was established last year to allow information from various departments to be quickly consolidated and announced. Local government agencies, NGOs, and private corporations can develop apps to take advantage of these services.
Unifying open information formats and working together to create industry value
In addition, this year we will standardize disaster alert information formats to facilitate transmission through the public disaster alert platform, providing M2M services, establishing cooperative relationships between government and private sectors, building an information feedback mechanism, and working with corporations to create industry value. According to Wen-Ray Su, foreign standards such as the CAP (Common Alerting Protocol) were referenced in the writing of these standards, and their goal is to provide a simple and universal format, allowing information obtained from traditional sensor devices and alert technologies to be converted to international network alert formats, which will be beneficial to the exchange of emergency disaster alerts and public warnings in various networks, and help reduce the cost and complexity related to operations required for various media organizations to establish proprietary systems for receiving disaster alert messages.
Furthermore, the system should be able to effectively collect and immediately forward disaster information as well as alerts to various areas and regions. It should also be able to issue national disaster alerts. The system should also automatically convert messages to be publicly announced and transmitted on various transmission media, such as television or radio. In 2004, the CAP1.0 version was accepted into the OASIS standard, and the latest version was announced in 2008. Then, the CAP-EAS was established for developing related disaster-prevention hardware industries and applications. Since last year, Taiwan's public and private sectors have been working together to develop the OASIS Common Alerting Protocol v1.2 standard and produce a Taiwan profile. It uses simple XML and portable structures, and supports various message formats to convert traditional alert messages into unified common formats.
Wen-Ray Su, Associated Research Fellow, National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR)