A Global View of Disasters

An ambitious project to publicise disasters and similar events has been undertaken by the Hungarian Republic.

By using clever software RSOE Havaria presents a global view of events against a world map on its website.

The website covers eruptions, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, but also goes deeper to present information on snow, hail, thunderstorm, road traffic, and other events. Not surprisingly, it also tracks reported outbreaks of birdflu, biological and chemical hazards as well.

The RSOE Havaria Emergency and Disaster Information Service has a primary role of advising citizens of hazards, and a secondary role of advising government, says station head, Zsolt Boszormenyi. It is a collaborative effort with the Hungarian Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Disaster Centre and the General-Directorate of Disaster Management.

Information is drawn from many sources worldwide, with earthquake information sourced in Europe which provides an alternative to the US Geological Survey’s data.

Our Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management could take a leaf from RSOE’s book. Whilst MCDEM has been starved for funds in recent years, it was given a funding boost last year to resolve problems identified during the Manawatu floods of 2004.

Despite the increased funding, MCDEM still seems to have communication problems as the tsunami scare following last month’s major earthquake near Tonga illustrated.

Hopefully something is going on in the background and MCDEM is spending some money on its website which seems to be running on a rusty old 386 somewhere. The homepage, which is lightly loaded with graphics, takes a staggering 1m20s on average to download via a dialup connection. When the website is loaded, it virtually grinds to a halt, and the homepage takes more than 5 minutes to load.

Compare this with the RSOE Havaria homepage which has a world map with associated icons and loads in 30 seconds.

The Ministry’s role is to communicate and co-ordinate information for the public, regional authorities and government in the event of a disaster. It was caught flat-footed last month when New Zealanders were receiving a tsunami alert from BBC World television whilst it sat on the information at its fingertips.

Hopefully it has learnt that, in an age when New Zealanders can get their information from many sources, official silence is seen as a sign of dithering. The funding boost should be used ensure that telephones are answered, staffing is increased and the webserver is given a much-needed revamp.

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