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friday :: january 21, 2005
structure of an international emergency alert system

The earthquake near Sumatra and subsequent tsunami throughout the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004 resulted in a large number of deaths; early estimates suggest six digit figures, with the hardest hit being remote regions of Sumatra. In the aftermath of this event, many countries have sent aid of various kinds, and the Internet community has asked itself whether the Internet might have been used to help.

This note proposes a system that could be used to quickly warn people in an identified geographic region of an impending event, such as a tsunami, hurricane or typhoon, or attack. It builds on existing technologies that are presently used for other purposes: given a alert from an appropriate Warning Center, the Internet (using, for example, Internet Mail and S/MIME) could be used to deliver an authenticated message to a set of mobile telephone operators, who in turn could send an SMS broadcast to mobile telephones in affected regions, alert of the event. The same email could trigger public and private organizations to initiate necessary support services such as evacuation orders or provision of shelter and emergency medical response. Such an approach would, of course, not warn everyone - everyone does not carry a mobile telephone, and everyone who does would not necessarily read it. But it would warn a large percentage, which might help...

Delivery of such a message via the Internet can be accomplished in a number of ways: mail, instant messaging, or other approaches. For the present purpose, the simplest approach would seem to be the use of the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). It requires, in essence, the creation of appropriate mailing lists, perhaps managed by the early Warning Centers themselves, of appropriate contacts in government and service providers. Operationally, if the operators prefer, another service could be used.

The great danger in such is that miscreants might send messages that appear similar to the same targets, spoofing the source. Such an event would severely damage the credibility and therefore the utility of such a system. As such, it is critical that an authenticated electronic mail message be used. Proof of authenticity might be provided using facilities such as S/MIME or PGP.

WWW (http or https) may also be used on a polled basis to deliver alerts. Such a system avoids many of the security issues mentioned regarding electronic mail, but has two unfortunate properties: polling must be sufficiently frequent to ensure timeliness of the delivery of the alert, and the frequency presents a scaling issue.

An approach to this might be built using Really Simple Syndication (RSS). This is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. Alert centers might use such a system as a way to publish their alerts permitting receivers to trigger automated actions when they occur. >from *Structure of an International Emergency Alert System*. Internet-Draft submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) by F. Baker and B. Carpenter. January 10, 2005

related context
the south-east asia earthquake and tsunami blog.
> sahana disaster management system
> arc (alert retrieval cache).
> emergency disasters data base.
> recent world earthquake activity. u.s. geological survey earthquakes: rss feed information
> feedbeep. sms alerts to your phone or pager about any rss feed.
> smartmobbing disaster relief by howard rheingold . january 20, 2005
> world conference on disaster reduction. kobe, japan, january 18-22, 2005
> how the earthquake affected earth. january 10, 2005
> video blogs break out with tsunami scenes. january 3, 2005
> expert: I tried to warn of tsunami. january 3, 2005
> lack of phone numbers stymied tsunami alert. december 31, 2004

tsunami: the message public notice alert

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