Environmental health in emergencies

Detection and alert

Early detection and warning: scientific team in the field

Detecting events as early as possible allows effective and efficient preventive measures to be initiated that avoid or minimize the costs to human health.

Early detection and alert of ongoing events is a crucial factor to ensure that appropriate response measures can be taken in a timely manner. Under certain circumstances, early detection and alert of ongoing incidents can even greatly attenuate their consequences. For instance, human loss resulting from the 26 December 2004 Indian ocean tsunami could have been greatly reduced if an efficient tsunami detection and alert system had been put in place, allowing the population of neighbouring islands to shelter before the deadly wave hit their islands.

Use of satellite images, positioning systems, communication aids and web-crawler tools to systematically screen news stories posted on the web, can all warn of impending disasters. Networks of organizations and groups also collect relevant health intelligence from around the world, and all leads are assessed and verified, with alerts issued if required.

As part of the revised International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), WHO has been developing a system to rapidly identify, verify and alert for incidents of (potential) international public health concern, including those involving environmental health hazards. This system is a technical collaboration between existing institutions and networks including the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), the Global Public Health Information Network (GPHIN), as well as ChemiNet.

Related links

  • International Health Regulations
    The International Health Regulations are legally binding regulations adopted by countries to contain the threats from diseases that may rapidly spread from one country to another.
  • MedISys
    MediSys is a real-time news alert system for medical and health related topics.
  • ChemiNet [pdf 154kb]
    The WHO Global Chemical Incident Emergency Response Network is a network of institutions, agencies, laboratories, WHO collaborating centres, poison centres, academia and individuals from different member states which provides emergency assistance to countries in investigating and responding to the public health and medical consequences of chemical incidents and emergencies. ChemiNet French [pdf 143kb]
  • GOARN
    The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) is a technical collaboration of existing institutions and networks who pool human and technical resources for the rapid identification, confirmation and response to outbreaks of international importance.