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Warning Research Centre



The Function and Structure of an Early Warning and Action Initiative

By Amanda Gallant, on 28 February 2023

By: Michael H.Glantz
February 27, 2023
CCB, Boulder
INSTAAR, University of Colorado

The function (what gets done) of an early warning system, regardless of what acronym is used to describe it, is to provide timely warnings individuals, groups, communities, political jurisdictions from county to country levels about potential climate, water or weather related (hydromet) threats to society. It could range from quick onset hydromet hazards to slow onset, creping ones. It is used to minimize if not avoid altogether the adverse consequences of a climate, water, or weather anomaly, to save lives, personal possessions, property, and all kinds of infrastructure. In theory at least those are desired and sought-after objectives. In practice, however, it has proven time and again to be a difficult task to achieve, given may socio-economic challenges (obstacles, constraints, or pitfalls encountered by those responsible for developing preparedness, readiness and response policies and enforcing them. Disaster after disaster — even the same kinds in the same place — societies try to invent ways to do better the next time, to cope more effectively and efficiently with such hydromet threats. Societies do not give up. Part of the problem in timely and effective preparation and/or responses has to do with the structure of the warning system and the bureaucratic process that are or should be integral parts of it.

Structure (how what gets done [function] gets done) is a different matter. It makes a difference what the name of the initiative, as it indicates the type of organization that could carry out the purpose of the initiative. There are several types or organizational structures, each with its pros and cons (Williams no date). There can also be a hybrid structures putting together the best positive features of each of the structures, while addressing the cons.

Perhaps the most common one is hierarchical, a pyramid like, with executives and the top, middle management and staff level employees at the base. According to Williams (n.d.), this structure “better defines levels of authority and responsibility…. However, it “can slow down innovation or important changes due to increase bureaucracy” and can make staff at the base of the pyramid “feel like they have less ownership and can’t express their ideas.”

There can also be a divisional top-down organizational structure, where “each division” operates autonomously within the overarching structure and has control over its own resources and operate separately from other divisions in the larger organization.

What will the structure designed by the WMO, the UNDRR and other organizations as advisers, use to enhance the EWEA or the EW4A? Perhaps the structure would be both descriptive acronyms by thinking more broadly of ways to combine the strengths and avoid the weaknesses by making explicit their overlapping but different set of goals: EWEA + EW4A = EWEA4A.

Doing so would enable the EW4A to be the overarching umbrella for lots of things: those activities with EA in their names do not have to change anything and continue; AA (Anticipatory Action) is also at play and, most importantly, regional EWEA centers can be developed where the EWEA4A can be tailored to address regional hydromet-related hazards and needs.

Everybody wins.

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