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Online Hazards Platform Gets Major Revamp

HEWSweb will allow the UN to compile information on occurences like floods or droughts, as well as see profiles on specific natural disasters. Copyright: WFP/ Myron Kamensa

An update to HEWSweb, an online natural hazards platform, brings some major improvements to users who rely on the service for real-time information on emergencies like earthquakes and floods. Pages compiling historical data and key statistics for individual countries and each kind of disaster are a few of the platform’s new features.

ROME—A new, highly operational version of the HEWSweb natural hazards platform, which allows users to dig quickly and deeply into a broad and comprehensive interactive database, has just gone live. HEWS – or the Humanitarian Early Warning System – is a one stop shop for information on floods, storms, droughts, locusts, volcanoes and seismic activity intended for all UN and humanitarian agencies.

Its authoritative sources include the United States Geological Survey and the World Meteorological Organisation, whose data is collated alongside information and analysis from WFP’s own Early Warning and Mapping Teams.

HEWSweb update

 

The re-vamp follows a user survey by the team from WFP’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch, which established and now runs HEWSweb as part of an Inter-Agency initiative. “We’ve responded to direct requests from organisations and citizens alike to tailor the site to what they need,” says Maurizio Blasilli, the project manager for HEWSweb at WFP.

“Some agencies for example, wanted to link the HEWs interface to their own internal databases. Now, with this upgrade, web developers in any organisation can integrate real-time HEWS information, ensuring the best preparedness and response capability,” he said.

Not just aid workers

The survey itself was undertaken following a greatly increased number of visits to HEWSweb before and after major natural disasters, such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. “We realised that there was a big audience out there relying on having the information brought together in one centralised, easy to use place like HEWSweb,” says Anthony Craig, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch.

“At the end of August, there were over 20,000 unique visitors to the site as Hurricane Isaac threatened New Orleans and the Gulf Coast seven years after the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina. And we also realised that it’s not just humanitarians who use HEWSweb, but a general audience too - people in the private sector, governments and even teachers,” he said.

Indeed, a teacher in the Republic of Ireland contacted WFP explaining that he was using HEWS to teach his class about natural disasters and how we can prepare for them. Other users such as a government official in Assam, India, said the platform’s information on floods was indispensible, while a user in Chile used it to track earthquakes and aftershocks.

Another government official, this time in Georgia, praised the accuracy of the information on HEWSweb and from Australia another user said a big plus was the ability to quickly delve deeper into the areas of seismic activity and volcanoes to find more information.

New features

One innovative feature of the new HEWSweb is individual Country Pages – these give a complete natural disaster profiles for each country. The Country Pages bring together key country statistics, historical hazard data on the recurrence and impact of hazards and tailor-made maps. There are also seasonal and hazards calendars which show the crops and livelihoods most at risk.

Every single natural disaster also has its own page. For example, there is a situation summary for a specific flood, with detailed maps and essential statistics such as the areas and number of people affected. Historical information, which in the case of storms goes as far back as 1848, provides a deeper, contextual understanding of the likely impact.

Other new tools are the ability to cross reference hazards and to subscribe to WFP’s extensive Early Warning information service. The Early Warning Team has also provided customised briefs which add expert analysis on current active hazards.

HEWSweb was created in 2009 as an Inter-Agency project. This version has been custom-developed for smartphones and iPads for simple, on-the-move use.