September 17, 2022

Report Evaluates Gaps in Early Warning Systems for Climate-Related Hazards in the US

"As climate-related weather events become a greater risk across the globe and in the United States," a report produced by the GSM Association (GSMA) explains that "innovative and inclusive early warning systems (EWS) are critical to mitigate these risks and strengthen preparedness for climate disasters." Moreover, "The frequency and impact of climate-related events have escalated in the US in recent years, negatively impacting communities and resulting in loss of life, property and livelihoods."

Funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, GSMA's report evaluates the gaps in EWS for climate-related hazards in the US, and identifies examples of mobile and digital interventions used at the community level in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that could help underserved and vulnerable groups become more resilient to climate-related disasters. The report also provides specific recommendations for closing identified gaps to strengthen EWS in the US.

The report's key findings include:
  • Climate-related hazards are on the rise in the US
  • Socially vulnerable groups are the most affected by climate-related risks and disasters
  • Early warning systems at the community level are not as robust as national systems
  • There are opportunities to improve how emergency warnings are issued and disseminated
  • Innovative community-based EWS in low- and middle-income countries offer lessons for the US

The GSMA proposes the following recommendations to help develop inclusive climate resilience strategies:

Co-design EWS with communities to strengthen communication, dissemination and response capability. "The current approach in the US aims to do this, but is often poorly implemented. Bringing American community organizations and municipalities together to develop new and/or modified EWS delivery models for Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) message initiation, or transfer to another system, will help develop localized models and strengthen community trust."

Investigate opportunities to leverage multi-channel EWS communication to reach a wider group of users and improve users' responses to messages. "In the US, message recipients are more likely to act if they receive a warning multiple times from different platforms. Message solutions like CHANTER could be used in combination with existing systems to amplify messages and make them more relevant, resulting in more specific messages being delivered to recipients' phones. When local communities are stakeholders and involved in managing such solutions, messages sent through the community-based channel would most likely be considered trustworthy and, therefore, prioritized."

Strengthen multi-language EWS messaging. "Leverage low-cost systems to rebroadcast messages in multiple languages. Local governments may also use other systems to auto-translate messaging for minority languages in coordination with user representatives from these communities. There is also an opportunity to pilot AI-powered auto-translate systems, for example, talking books to reach users who are not literate."

Engage partners in educating customers about wireless emergency alert (WEA) and local opt-in alert and warning systems. "Local communities can partner with local wireless operators to provide information to consumers on the benefits of WEA and local opt-in systems. This could be implemented as a corporate social responsibility initiative, alongside civil society groups and county emergency offices, hosting targeted workshops and advocacy campaigns that highlight the importance of residents signing up for warning messages and gathering feedback from residents on their preferences and potential challenges related to receiving disaster warnings."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information, there were 142 weather- and climate-related disasters costing at least $1 billion each have been recorded in the US in the past 10 years. The most common and costly events were hurricanes, cyclones, and wildfires. The estimated cumulative cost of these events between 2012 and 2022 was more than $1 trillion.

The GSMA importantly notes that "Planning for climate change requires that government institutions and local communities adapt and prepare systems and strategies to mitigate the risks of climate-related disasters and build their resilience and capacity to respond." This report presents some valuable insights into how to create innovative and inclusive climate resilience strategies by closing gaps to strengthen early warning systems in the US.

Do you agree with the report's recommendations?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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