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July 29, 2006

How is it that China is far more able to deal with a natural disaster than the U.S.?

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In this past Wednesday's (July 26) New York Times appeared Jim Yardley's brief story about Typhoon Kaemi, which "came ashore on the southern China coast Tuesday afternoon [July 25], prompting the evacuation of more than 643,000 people in a region still recovering from an earlier storm that caused major flooding and left more than 600 people dead."

How do you spell "Katrina?"

But here's the sentence that blew me away: "State news media reported that officials had sent text-message warnings about the storm to six million cellphone users in the region."

Impressive.

Here's the piece.

    Typhoon Drenches South China After 643,000 Are Evacuated

    Typhoon Kaemi came ashore on the southern China coast Tuesday afternoon, prompting the evacuation of more than 643,000 people in a region still recovering from an earlier storm that caused major flooding and left more than 600 people dead.

    State news media reported that the typhoon struck the coast at 3:50 p.m. in Fujian Province before being downgraded to a tropical storm. It was expected to dump rain along the coast and gradually move inland toward Anhui Province. It was the fifth major storm to hit the Chinese coast during this summer’s typhoon season.

    Early Wednesday morning, heavy rains doused Fujian, as well as Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces, but it was too early to determine the extent of any damages.

    Government officials ordered a major mobilization before the storm, including the arrival of 3,000 officers of the People’s Armed Police in Fujian to respond to emergencies.

    State news media reported that officials had sent text-message warnings about the storm to six million cellphone users in the region.

    In addition, more than 60,000 vessels were ordered to return to harbors.

    The efforts by the government followed a confused response to the tropical storm Bilis, which came ashore in southern China about two weeks ago and set off mudslides and flooding.

    Initially, officials attributed about 200 deaths to Bilis, but that figure more than doubled last week amid accusations that local officials had tried to hide the true number of deaths. The Ministry of Civil Affairs sent a special team to investigate the allegations of a cover-up.

    Local officials have denied a cover-up and blamed any confusion on communications breakdowns at the height of the crisis.

    In the interim, the death toll from Bilis has risen to 612, with another 208 people missing. On Saturday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Hunan Province, where at least 346 people died in floods and landslides from the storm.

    Summer is traditionally typhoon season in southern China, but meteorologists say the storms have arrived earlier this year. Earlier, Kaemi swept across the Philippines before hitting Taiwan on Monday night.

    State news media reported that the storm had caused major disruptions on Taiwan but only limited property damage and four injuries.

....................

On July 13 the Times ran an article about how the U.S. is planning to institute an updated system for disaster alerts.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that a FEMA official said that doing it the way the Chinese did, via text message to affected cellphone users, "may not be available for some time."

At least FEMA didn't come right out and say, "real soon now."

Here's that July 13 story.

    U.S. to Update Alert System For Disasters

    The people who brought the nation the ominous announcement, ''This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System,'' are working on an alert system for disasters that could ultimately send messages simultaneously to millions of cellphones nationwide.
    The first steps to building the system, called the Digital Emergency Alert System, were displayed on Wednesday in a television studio near Washington, where federal officials used a Public Broadcasting Service network to transmit a message by satellite to a television set and a satellite radio receiver.

    The current system only allows the federal government to broadcast verbal messages nationwide or to a large region directly. The new one should be able to send distinct messages automatically that include video, audio, documents and graphics to specific urban areas or to emergency personnel automatically, officials said.

    Currently, 24 PBS affiliates have the equipment to receive and transmit the digital signal. By the end of 2007, all PBS affiliates should receive and transmit the signal, said Kevin G. Briggs, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official.

    Special receivers will be provided by the end of next year to most radio and television stations in large cities and to state emergency operations centers so they can automatically tap in to rebroadcast the special digital messages, which will be initiated by the federal government and distributed by PBS members.

    The new emergency signal can already be sent by satellite to cellphone companies. But trying to transmit simultaneously the information as a text message to every subscriber would probably overload the system, Mr. Briggs said, so federal officials are exploring technological solutions, meaning that this option may not be available for some time.

    The new alert system is expected to cost about $5.5 million to test and deploy nationally and $1 million annually to maintain, FEMA said.

    The upgrade in the alert system, which was created during the cold war, was inspired partly by the 2001 terror attacks and partly by Hurricane Katrina, when communications problems hampered government response and notification efforts.

    John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, said a benefit of the new system was that the digital broadcasts could be reliably sent out even if Internet or wired phone systems were knocked out or partly disabled.

    It also avoids a major weakness in the current system. Messages are now sent by relay from one broadcast station to another, a chain that can be disrupted if a location is out of service.

....................

I guess it's every man, woman and child for him or herself down in Louisiana and Mississippi this coming hurricane season.

Say what you like about internet firewalls and whatnot, it would appear the Chinese are far ahead of us when it comes to employing technology to preserve and protect its citizens.

July 29, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

clifyt. Sounds like you have many sources of information about China that you have some digestion problem, so you just use a simple conclusion to cover everything. Yes, many Chinese do not like their government. But we are only talking about dealing with a natural disaster. Your following statement is not logical, because the Chinese government may be "life threatening" in other situations, but definitely not when dealing with "non-life threatening natural event". You cannot explain everything about China by just saying the government is "life threatening", even when it has nothing to do with the "lift threatening" part of the government.

> In a nation like China, you not only face th.e threat of the most likely non-life threatening natural event, but also the most decidedly life threatening government that has a track record that no one would bet against.

Posted by: realtechie | Aug 5, 2006 10:51:17 PM

Working in a semi-international university, I have several friends from china that would agree with both of you. And I also have a lot more friends that would disagree with both of you...they ALL love their home country but not the government.

I made no moral judgements about the country and I'm not doing so now. I'm imply repeating what I have heard from first person accounts as well as what I have read and believe to be true (no, not FauxNews reports...most were stories from European news sources which are a little more credible than US news sources).

Posted by: clifyt | Jul 30, 2006 11:13:20 AM

Clifyt, you sound as misinformed about life in China as the two blokes at Beijing airport 5 years ago who told me with perfect sincerity that the Chinese government had sent Red Guards to spy on them - they knew because "the Guards" were constantly calling their hotel phone and knocking on their door with towels they didn't ask for etc.

If they'd known anything about anything they would have known they were not being bugged by "Red Guards" but by prostitutes and pimps (as any single bloke in a Beijing Hotel would know).

Posted by: IB | Jul 29, 2006 11:31:33 PM

clifyt, how much do you know about China? You think anyone who does not evacuate as the government wants will be put in jail or executed? Typical exaggerated imagination by people in the West.

Posted by: realtechie | Jul 29, 2006 5:36:48 PM

The ideology that allows it to protect its citizens are also the same tools used to enslave them just the same.

This is the problem with communism as practiced by the Chinese or for that matter any of the other regimes that have used it in practice. On paper its a great thing...its not about individualism as the US is, its about being a part of a bigger cog in the machine. Every gear has to mesh or it doesn't work, and any gear that decides to retool itself is destroyed.

I'm not making value judgements on their people -- without rule like this, some nations would perish along with all their citizens. For instance, I am a firm believer that because of the practices of the colonial nations in the last century or two, the middle east cannot easily transition to a democracy because of the ideology put forward to them and needs semi-dictatorial guidance. Does it make it right for the individual citizens...no. But it may be the only way to have stability in the short term and thus the reason the US can't get a control over Iraq.

How does this relate to the Chinese and there "employing technology to preserve and protect its citizens"? Its much easier to get folks onto the program when they are accustomed to doing what their nation tells them or face punishment. In the US, mobilizing a people is next to impossible because 9 times out of 10, the item that is being mobilized against does not appear or if it does, it is no where near the severity. In a nation like China, you not only face the threat of the most likely non-life threatening natural event, but also the most decidedly life threatening government that has a track record that no one would bet against.

Luckily for us, the US is slowly moving into the authoritarian realm as well. Constitutional protections are publicly quoted as quaint by presidents from all parties, though disagreeing with which should be removed, and as such, in our lifetime, we will be able to mobilize our peoples in much the same way. All in the name of protecting our citizenry.

Posted by: clifyt | Jul 29, 2006 11:03:12 AM

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