If you knew 20 minutes before that a severe flood or tsunami would occur, what would you do? Early warning systems allow individuals and communities a window of time for fight or flight. For time-critical events such as tsunamis, mudslides and flash floods, the warnings are a trigger to action – to move quickly out of the danger area. For more moderate hazards e.g. street flooding, or slower arriving hurricanes, warnings provide an opportunity to fight to protect your family and property, either by relocation or barrier protection in doorways and windows.

October 13 marks the United Nations’ International Day for Disaster Reduction. For 2018 the UN emphasizes that Reducing Economic Losses from Disasters has the Power to Transform Lives. Economic loss can be minimized where early warning systems provide timely and usable information.

The national and regional agencies of the Caribbean are partnering to substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in collaboration with national disaster offices are working to assess and improve the national early warning systems in Antigua Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Also collaborating on the project are the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Local and regional partners are trying to raise awareness, and to merge the many national hazards authorities into an integrated national multi-hazard EWS and improve warning messages communication.

The collaboration includes regional experts e.g. Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology in Barbados. CIMH, UNDP, IFRC and CDEMA are working together to adapt the IFRC Community Early Warning System Field Guide for the Caribbean. This training of trainers course will build national capacity to engage with vulnerable communities to establish local hazard monitoring, warning and response. This will give communities more time to protect themselves. Community early warnings will be integrated into the national warning system. Financial assistance for these multi-hazard EWS is provided by the European Union through its Disaster Preparedness Program of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DIPECHO).

As we mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction, take some time to get to know more about you national early warning systems and help your community to develop localized early warning systems, because minutes of warning are critical to saving lives and reducing losses.