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Published: Wednesday February 6, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday April 17, 2013 MYT 12:02:50 PM

Engage the people to make system effective

THE Public Works Department is to be commended for coming up with an early warning system that can send out alerts at least two hours before a landslide occurs.

It is a work in progress, and full implementation could take up to five years.

Based on the high-tech model used in Hong Kong, the PWD has a lot of work on its hands having identified up to 21,000 landslide-prone areas throughout the country, of which 16,000 or 76% are in peninsular Malaysia and some 3,000 are in Sabah and 2,000 in Sarawak.

Recent landslide incidents due to the unpredictable weather have brought this issue out into the open again. And, typically, there are many who will give their take on the real reasons and offer solutions.

Some speak out because of their technical expertise, but many simply make comments, despite their limited understanding of the real issues, to stay in the news.

The PWD is the right agency to spearhead this early warning system because it has a proven track record and access to good scientific data drawn from the Meteorological Department and the Drainage and Irrigation Department.

Rainfall patterns and intensity must be seen in a holistic manner and data on all development projects is critical in ensuring accurate analysis.

We must always be mindful that the build-up of water does not happen only on the day it rains in a specific area but could have been the result of heavy rainfall a few days earlier at a project site that may be some distance away.

And this is why the PWD needs to work closely not only with government agencies but with all the stakeholders, from the developers to the residents.

For example, in the current pilot study being carried out at the Bukit Antarabangsa hotspot, will there be channels that will specifically deliver the early warning to the people who will be most affected first?

A resident in a high-rise apartment may not necessarily be tuned in to the TV or radio at the time of the alert, but his phone or mobile device will always be on.

With smartphones, an app designed to warn you if you are driving towards a landslide-prone vicinity may be more effective than a signboard put up in a hurry at the site itself.

For apartment dwellers, the management office is probably the most effective channel to issue an alert to the residents.

But many residents will testify that sometimes it is not easy to get news from the management office, as the internal communication system may have been neglected through years of non-usage.

The PWD must therefore engage the people within these areas to make the system work best where it matters.

It will be of no use if an alert is issued and everyone in the country knows about it, but not the people who are most in danger of being impacted by an impending landslide.

Every developer, even if they have long vacated the area, must be responsible for the constant safety of the people who have invested in their projects.

If they do their part, the PWD will not only be able to do its work better, but complete its task ahead of the five-year target it has set.

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