Cell broadcasting, a messaging system that is found in the two celco networks in the Maldives can be used to send immediate public warning messages to users, a think tank has said.
The cell broadcast facility has to be activated by each phone user.
"It can, if citizens and tourists can be educated to turn on the appropriate channel, serve as an ideal one-to-many channel for disseminating hazard information from the government," LIRNEAsia, a regional telecom policy and regulation think tank, said.
"Cell broadcasts reach further to the sea than normal mobile coverage and can thus serve those in fishing boats, ferries and other craft as well."
In 2008, the Communications Authority of the Maldives had asked LIRNEasia, which has expertise in disaster early warning, to identify the preconditions needed for cell broadcast for early warning and evaluate its commercial potential.
"In the tiny but intensely rivalrous Maldives industry, the operators, each with a customer base less than that of a small city elsewhere, focus almost exclusively on marketing," LIRNEAsia said.
"However, upon being educated on CB’s potential not only for public warning but for myriad commercial and other applications, it is likely that Maldives will become one of the pioneers in effective public warning."
LIRNEAsia says according to the Asian Development Bank, the Maldives was among the worst affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Loss of life was small, but around one-third of the population was affected and property damage was estimated to have been around 60 per cent of gross domestic product.
"Its principal industry is tourism," the think tank noted. "Ensuring public safety and giving visitors a sense of security are thus high priorities for the government."
Because the population of the Maldives is highly dispersed radio and television would be less than ideal for public warning, LIRNEAsia said. Tourists were also unlikely to listen to local channels. The sets also need to be switched on for messages to be heard.
Short message service (SMS) was also an option but phones need to be pre-registered and congestion could also delay message delivery.
"A discreet campaign telling tourists how to turn on the Maldivian warning channel can not only enhance their security but also communicate the image of a caring Maldives," LIRNEAsia said.
For sustained adoption, it will be necessary for the regulator to continue discussions with the operators to develop a framework for commercial CB applications and to encourage such uses.