New alert technology for dust storm in the offing

New alert technology for dust storm in the offing

Vehicles ply on roads during a mild dust storm in Bikaner on Thursday. PTI

A day after more than 100 people were killed in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan by a fearsome dust storm, officials associated with disaster management say a new technology to alert people about an impending and localised natural calamity would be ready shortly.

The National Disaster Management Authority was in the final stage of coming out with a common alert protocol (CAP) that has the potential to prevent deaths from thunderstorm or dust storm, squall and urban flooding, government sources told DH.

At the moment, the India Meteorological Department doesn’t have a technology to accurately predict the intensity of a thunderstorm with sufficient lead time for the administration.

“Unlike a cyclone, a thunderstorm or a dust storm is a fast moving event as the phenomenon is over within a few hours. At present technology only allows us to warn the administration about the upcoming storm, but can’t tell its intensity with accuracy,” said M Rajeevan, Secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

What makes the matter worse is almost near absence of a disaster response mechanism in the districts in most of the land-locked states, unlike the coastal states that over the years have been able to establish such a system because of the threats from cyclones.

The CAP is intended to overcome such challenge. It would ensure pushing emergency SMS through the nearby mobile towers to lakhs of people, asking them to run for cover.

The Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing created the CAP with funding support from the NDMA. The state-owned BSNL has been roped in to access mobile towers.

A pilot project is going on in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Over the past 15 days, nearly 20 lakh SMS were sent to people in Andhra Pradesh, alerting them about two thunderstorm spells.

Another round of testing would happen during the upcoming south-west monsoon season when the IMD would use the CAP system to alert the citizens about upcoming heavy rainfall events and Central Water Commission will forewarn about urban floods.

“We have a structured response system only for a cyclone. Of late states like Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have begun working for a disaster response system for heatwaves. For all other natural calamities, the CAP is our best bet,” said an official.

Last month IMD couldn’t predict the intensity of a nor'wester that hit Kolkata. While the met agency warned the administration about a moderate storm with a wind speed of 30-40 km per hour, the violent thunderstorm that hit the eastern metropolis had a wind speed of nearly 100 kmph.