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DateLine Sunday, 30 December 2007

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Radio messages to warn of natural disasters

Three years after the tsunami, a natural disaster satellite alert system is now ready to help warn last-mile rural villages on natural disaster emergencies. The Addressable Radio for Emergency Alert (AREA) is a digital satellite device that uses simple radio technology, delivering messages to save lives.

LIRNEasia (Learning Initiatives on Reforms for Network Economics) is a research-based organization that has collaborated with World-Space USA. They have field-tested the AREA device in Brahamawatte - Balapitiya (Galle District) and villages, like Panama in Ampara. "We have concluded eight different configurations that we can communicate to the rural villages and communities" said, Executive Director, LIRNEasia Professor Rohan Samarajiva.

The device is a palm-top radio which can be used to listen to news and music under normal circumstances.

However in the state of an emergency, the normal channel is automatically diverted to another channel which gives updates about an emergency. For different rural villages and communities, different messages can be broadcast on different channels.

From 2006, Sarvodaya has been working with LIRNEasia to help train communities to be more informed about disasters and to think about proper evacuation methods. "For example, flash floods cannot be pre-determined but if the Kelaniya river overflows, villages downstream can be warned that in x number of hours, y inches of the water level will rise", said Professor Samarajiva.

Sarvodaya stations are located at their regional centres in 32 villages, broadcasting emergency messages managed by their team of experts. Even though LIRNEasia has given many AREA devices to rural villages, there are still more communities who are in need of them. "The government's assistance is needed to fund the AREA radios for all rural communities with an authoritative person in charge to transfer the emergency message". said Professor Samarajiva.

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