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ABUGA 2014: Summit on saving lives kicks off ABU General Assembly week

A two-day summit on Saving Lives: Preparing for Disasters has opened this year’s week of events in the run-up to the ABU’s 50th anniversary General Assembly in Macau.

Opening the conference on Disaster Preparedness in the Asia-Pacific, the Union’s Secretary-General Dr Javad Mottaghi said media professionals should increase their awareness and have a better understanding of what to do before, during and after any natural disaster.

He said the ABU had received support from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to hold the meeting from 21-22 October 2014 in advance of the 2014 General Assembly on 27-28 October.

One the first day of the special forum, 12 speakers from different parts of the world gathered in the Special Administrative Region of China to exchange views on the need for broadcasters to be well prepared and ready to broadcast any news on any disaster. Most importantly, they presented different ways and means to reach the targeted audiences at the right moment.

Participants took stock of the international initiatives after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami to establish effective systems for early warnings for coastal hazards throughout the region. 

Sandy Song of the Hong Kong Observatory proposed the setting up of a TV studio at the Meteorological Services so that weather experts and media people could speak the same language. It was agreed that information concerning disasters should be simple, clear and accurate for any audience.

Because disasters cover a wide range of calamities such as tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones, storm surges, flooding, eruptions and landslides, the conference also had on its agenda an analysis of effective early warnings for different disasters.

Independent consultant Walter Welz stressed the importance of an immediate verification process to ensure that any alert was officially and accurately issued before broadcast.

Vulnerable people were at the centre of the presentation by Aqeel Quereshi, Vice-President of the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES). He said that people with disabilities, old people and children needed special attention. Community Early Warning Systems, volunteers, sirens, flags and electronic signs could be used together with radio, television, landlines and mobile phones in an attempt to reduce the mortality rate of these vulnerable persons in situations of risks.

The first day’s final session examined all aspects of the role of broadcasters in educating and preparing their audiences for natural disasters. Emphasis was laid on the Japanese system for early warnings for earthquakes and tsunamis, which had been developed over the last four decades. Akinari Hashimoto , Executive Controller at NHK and a former broadcast journalist explained how Japanese citizens were informed instantly about any earthquake. The system comprises 500 remote-controlled cameras and 50 helicopters shooting for NHK. TV and radio signals were then activated automatically.

The last day of the disaster forum was dedicated to the most frequent natural hazards in the Asia-Pacific, such as like typhoons, floods and cyclones.

Donna Lina-Flavier, President of UBE Media of the USA spoke of setting up a Weather TV channel to help people to learn about the weather on a daily basis and the forum heard how in Thailand the Meteorological Department ran a radio channel regulated by the National Broadcasting and Communications Commission (NBTC).

Other speakers shared their views about poor communication that could kill and participants took the chance to debate what Dave Britton of UK Meteorological Services  called “where science shakes hands with the media”.