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December 31, 2013

SMS disaster warning systems could save millions of lives

On ninth anniversary of Boxing Day Tsunami, technologies are now available to give early warning messages.

By Claire Vanner

Mobile phones have been utilised to alert millions of people to impending perils such as tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes.

Nine years after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history, a new technological advance is now available, that provides early warning of natural disasters, which could save millions of lives in at risk regions.

Regrettably, few governments in the Indian Ocean region, a high risk area for natural disasters, have invested in the life-saving potential of cheap and simple warning systems that could have prevented the 230,000 death toll from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.

The technology is available to citizens where their government has adopted the RegPoint technology, however there is a potential for Western tourists to access the information while on holiday. As many as 7,000 tourists, mostly from Europe, lost their lives in the 2004 tsunami without any warning.

The new disaster early-warning service technology has the ability to send SMS messages immediately to all mobile phones in a designated locality, pinpointing precise warnings, guidance or other information to a specific geographical region before a disaster strikes.

The service, developed by RegPoint with the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) can provide citizens, with accurate and rapid information on the size, scale and expected time of the disaster, as well as with advice on how best to secure their safety.

After the tsunami struck in 2004, although internet connection was lost in most affected areas, there was still ability to send an SMS text message which means that a disaster warning system can be extremely effective after such a catastrophe in communicating with those in the region.

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Sophia Salenius, founder and MD of RegPoint, has urged world leaders to follow the example of the Indian Government and adopt the new technology to save lives.

She said: "I hope that we never experience the scale of devastation and destruction experienced in 2004 again. We must not be blind sighted about the threat of natural disasters and must use all of the tools available to minimize the impact of any future threats. Early warning systems now exist that can significantly increase survival rates if a natural disaster does hit.

"It is the responsibility of governments to protect citizens from the worst impact of natural disasters. These systems are available and can save millions of lives. We must act now."

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