Concern for people’s safety has driven SFU's Peter Anderson to develop emergency communication systems that have been adopted the world over.
From tsunamis and rockslides to forest fires and disease outbreaks, Peter Anderson has been making communities the world over better prepared for disaster for nearly four decades. He got his start at a time when applied international research in emergency systems was still a fledgling field, which has made him a pioneer in the development and implementation of emergency communication systems.
An associate professor with the SFU’s School of Communication since 1997 and director of the Telematics Research Lab, Anderson is program alumnus who garnered much of his inspiration to work in telecommunications from Patricia Hindley and Gail Martin, who were also two of the founding professors of the School. “I initially entered the field because I was interested in how communication technology could be used to stimulate community engagement and social change,” he says.
Anderson went on to devote the main thrust of his career to emergency communication applications, an interest that developed partly after participating in an early 1970s outreach research collaboration between SFU and a Sudanese university that as experiencing a civil war at the time. By experimenting with using two-way radio to establish communication networks between the university and surrounding villages to, the project was successful in facilitating the sharing of intelligence. Anderson says, “My interest continued to grow from there and I was involved with amateur radio communication during events like the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake and 1987 Edmonton Tornado.”
And, with the emergence of information technology, Anderson became intrigued by how it could potentially be used to build bridges across disciplines and jurisdictions to bring together hazards experts with those impacted by them. In the 1980s, he created EPIX (the emergency preparedness information exchange), a virtual bulletin board platform he used as a model to develop a national disaster information network for Australia, and later, for B.C.
In 1993, Anderson developed and hosted (at SFU) the UN’s first internet tool for humanitarian relief activities; a system that utilized some of the first automated mailing lists and which distributed thousands of reports and appeals for global assistance from areas ravaged by disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes and floods. He went on to pioneer emergency internet systems for other international and Canadian humanitarian and disaster reduction organizations.
And, within days of the shocking 2004 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 in South Asia, Anderson landed in Sri Lanka to be of assistance. Over the next three years, he worked with local NGOs and emergency officials to develop techniques that would warn remote coastal communities of incoming tsunamis and other disasters. These techniques have since been applied elsewhere, including along the rural coastal stretches of B.C. where a major earthquake would put thousands within reach of a tsunami.
In further collaboration with the government of Sri Lanka and the UN International Telecommunications Union, Anderson devised an advanced mobile emergency-communications vehicle to serve the country’s many remote villages. Equipped with technologies such as an advanced communication system for sending voice and data via satellite, cellular, landlines and wireless Internet, a similar vehicle has been deployed closer to home in B.C. for use during extreme events such as floods, wildfires and avian influenza outbreaks. Since the beginning, Anderson and his collaborators have taken the approach of empowering high-risk communities to become self-sufficient in terms of utilizing the systems, while offering support as needed.
Today, much of Anderson’s work involves collaborating with communities to develop risk reduction strategies, such as refining coastal B.C.’s tsunami warning systems in the aftermath of the 2012 Haida Gwaii Earthquake. He is also working with colleague Stephen Braham on a new, national, rapid-deployable broadband public safety communication system. They have also been collaborating with NASA and other space agencies on the application of similar approaches to new space exploration communication concepts.
“We are facing ever-increasing challenges arising from factors such as globalization, mega-cities, pollution and climate change,” Anderson says, speaking to what has sustained his motivation over the years. “As a concerned citizen, I cannot separate my academic work from wanting to help improve people’s safety and lives.”
Bellett, G. (2007, Jan 23). Canada, sri lanka work to deliver disaster warnings. The Vancouver Sun Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/242135797?accountid=13800
Dr. Peter Anderson is director of the Telematics Research Lab and associate professor of communication at SFU. He has delivered lectures, seminars, workshops and presentations at numerous conferences and professional events in Canada and abroad including China, Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Chile, Japan, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the US. He is currently collaborating with Canadian federal, provincial and territorial public safety agencies, local authorities and responders on new methods for improving intra and interagency communications for mission critical operations, public warning and situational awareness. In 2013, he was appointed to the Order of British Columbia and he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pacific Northwest Preparedness Society for his applied research contributions.
Q & A with Peter Anderson
SFU bills itself as “Canada’s most engaged research university.” How does your own work exemplify this spirit of engagement?
It is community driven, interdisciplinary and interactive.
What advice would you give your younger self regarding the challenges you've faced as a researcher?
Be prepared for the long haul. It's often not a single major breakthrough that makes the greatest contribution, but rather the culmination of many small and varied approaches over time. Treat failed attempts as just as valuable learning experiences as successful outcomes.
Putting one’s work out into the world often requires a leap of courage. Where do you find your courage?
Through gaining people’s trust and support by being open and willing to engage them as active partners in the research and its application.