Save the children

Disaster-prone Vietnam is susceptible to rapid-onset emergencies like storms, typhoons, and flooding annually. During these times, children are unable to go to school due to unsafe conditions and parents fearing for their children’s safety. Approximately 70% of the population is living in coastal and low-lying areas, resulting in high vulnerability to extreme weather events intensified by climate change and global warming.

As part of Save the Children in Vietnam’s risk reduction work, the country office has been working to improve the way hazard risk information is shared. Partnering with local government agencies and mobile companies, Save the Children initiated an SMS disaster early warning system that provides weather information to the vulnerable coastal provinces of Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, and Da Nang.

Previously, coastal communities disseminated information about impending emergencies through loudspeaker systems in village public spaces, or via village leaders performing household door-knocks. These methods proved inadequate either due to loudspeaker systems’ inability to cover all villages, or being disrupted due to power cuts. They also provided little opportunity for data collection on affected households, preventing disaster management authorities from having accurate data to inform their actions and response.

Through the SMS system, volunteers (heads of households and members of community disaster action teams) are assigned to monitor floodwater levels in their neighbourhoods. Their mobile devices are registered for free SMS communication with provincial government agencies. Volunteers can receive SMS warnings instantaneously and advise people to leave their homes, seek higher ground, and move to safety. They can also send information back about floodwater height or other conditions in their area to improve data collection, mapping, and government decision-making. Any member of the public can reach out to government agencies to register their mobile number for this free SMS information.

Practical application of this data can be seen; the Quang Nam government maintains a website at http://pctt.quangnam.vn/, which maps the extent of flooding over various areas. The site also contains information about local hazards, disaster laws, and resilience projects. This information allows provincial authorities to make life-saving decisions, and allows valuable analysis to be performed on how households can better prepare.

Through the SMS early warning system, educational authorities can take steps to ensure that children are in a safe location, and secure educational materials and facilities to prevent damage. These early measures can save the lives of children and teachers. “With less damage incurred to buildings and materials, schools can remain open after disasters,” says Binh Nguyen, Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergencies Manager.

She continues, “We are working to have all headmasters and teachers in our project areas register for the SMS early warning system. Early warnings in schools will reduce the loss and improve their resilience against disasters. Early actions often prevent a hazard from turning into a human disaster, preventing loss of life and reducing economic impact.”

Using technology to innovate and improve the safety of children is made sustainable by local partnerships. In this instance, our government partners in Da Nang helped to cover the mobile company’s costs. Across the country, Save the Children is working with technology companies to improve this innovation and take it to scale. “The SMS early warning system is a good example of how technology can transform traditional ways of disseminating disaster related information and alerts,” says Erwin Nacuray, Save the Children in Vietnam Deputy Country Director. “We are living in a connected world and I believe that technology has an increasing role in disaster risk reduction.”

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