Minutes Matter: Haiti Deserves Better Weather Forecasting Three Years After the Quake

While the Haitian people have proven to be incredibly resilient, there remains a great need for the tools and early warnings that Americans take for granted when dangerous conditions threaten lives and livelihoods.
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In the three years following the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti to its core, we've watched additional natural disasters repeatedly take their toll on the fragile Caribbean nation. Last year alone, Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy -- while causing unprecedented devastation to major cities along the East Coast -- killed at least 95 Haitians and disrupted the lives of thousands trying to survive in post-quake tents.

Haiti's lack of alerting technology stands in sharp contrast to our nation's own weather detection and warning capabilities, which are arguably the most advanced in the world. America's robust network -- comprised of neighborhood-level sensors, ground-based radar, satellite imagery and more -- warns of deadly tornadoes, massive hurricanes, and blinding snowstorms and allows us to seek safety when minutes matter. My company is proud to partner with the U.S. National Weather Service as they use real-time data from our weather and lightning networks to achieve their mission of making the nation "weather ready."

About 700 miles off the Florida coastline, however, one of our closest neighbors can do little to alert and protect its 10 million residents from the next major weather catastrophe. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is highly vulnerable to the impacts of meteorological, hydrological and climate-related events. In 2008, Hurricanes Fay, Gustav and Ike hit the country, leaving nearly 1,000 dead and producing severe flooding. In 2010, Hurricane Tomas caused more than 20 deaths.

Today, nearly all Americans receive weather alerts wherever we are and whenever we need them -- on our smartphones, on TV, radio and the Internet, and even via social media. While mobile phones are also prevalent in Haiti, there is inadequate infrastructure in place to properly alert Haitians of the storms that have been intensifying the housing shortages and cholera outbreaks in Port-au-Prince after the quake.

While the Haitian people have proven to be incredibly resilient, there remains a great need for the tools and early warnings that Americans take for granted when dangerous conditions threaten lives and livelihoods. At Earth Networks, we are carrying out a Commitment to Action through the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to address the profound need for extreme weather monitoring and early warning throughout Haiti.

As part of this effort, Earth Networks is gearing up to deploy in Haiti some of the same advanced alerting technology used here in the U.S. During Phase I, we are analyzing Haiti's current network infrastructure and determining additional weather and lightning sensors, hardware and technology needed to support real-time weather observations. Phase 2 will focus on the delivery of advanced severe weather alerting to Haitians via mobile SMS communications. Nearly half of the country's population uses mobile phones, making mobile alert delivery an exciting and viable method for communicating breaking weather alerts.

With its tropical location within the Atlantic Hurricane Basin, we should unfortunately expect to see additional severe weather and subsequent tragedies unfold across Haiti over the coming years. No country should unknowingly remain in harm's way of the next major storm. Yet it is a tragic reality that most of the world's population -- billions of individuals living in developing nations -- has never received a severe weather warning. It is our goal that this work in Haiti will serve as a roadmap for deploying early warning systems in numerous emerging nations around the globe.

Many of the world's most respected climate experts expect the frequency and intensity of severe weather events around the world to increase due to climate change and eventually become the "new normal." It's time we take action in Haiti as the recovery continues, because when it comes to saving lives, minutes matter.

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