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Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS)

Traditionally, many countries have been reactive to disasters experiencing significant losses in lives and livelihoods of their citizens. Adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005–2015 by 168 countries has led to a paradigm shift in disaster risk management from emergency response to a comprehensive approach which also includes preparedness and preventive strategies to reduce risk.

Early Warning Systems (EWS) are well recognized as a critical life-saving tool for floods, droughts, storms, bushfires, and other hazards. As shown in Figure 1, the recorded economic losses linked to extreme hydro-meteorological events have increased nearly 50 times over the past five decades, but the global loss of life has decreased significantly, by a factor of about 10, thus saving millions of lives over this period. This has been attributed to better monitoring and forecasting of hydro-meteorological hazards and more effective emergency preparedness.

Experience has shown that effective EWS need four components:

  1. Detection, monitoring and forecasting the hazards;
  2. Analyses of risks involved;
  3. Dissemination of timely warnings - which should carry the authority of government;
  4. Activation of emergency plans to prepare and respond.
These four components need to be coordinated across many agencies at national to local levels for the system to work. Failure in one component or lack of coordination across them could lead to the failure of the whole system. The issuance of warnings is a national responsibility; thus, roles and responsibilities of various public and private sector stakeholders for implementation of EWS should be clarified and reflected in the national to local regulatory frameworks, planning, budgetary, coordination, and operational mechanisms.

Expert Advisory Group on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (EAG-MHEWS)
The EAG-MHEWS been established by the WMO DRR Services Division to focus on documentation of good practices and the development of guidelines and training modules on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS). Building on the work already carried out, documentation of good practices on MHEWS WMO Guidelines on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Institutional Partnerships in MHEWS are under preparation.  Furthermore, WMO Guidelines on the operational aspects of MHEWS building on the principles of Quality Management Systems (QMS) are to be implemented during the 2012-2015 inter-sessional period This Expert Advisory Group (EAG) is comprised of leading experts from the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS), disaster risk management agencies, regional agencies, international and regional development agencies and the private sector.

Good Practices and related guidance principles
With a history of recurring disasters, a number of lower income countries such as Bangladesh and Cuba have already made dramatic strides in reducing mortality risk by developing effective early warning systems for tropical cyclones, storm surge and flooding. In Cuba, the government has made protection of lives their highest priority, investing significantly in the development of the Cuban Tropical Cyclone Early Warning System. In Bangladesh, following the tropical cyclones and storm surges in 1970 and 1991 that led to nearly 300 000 and 140 000 casualties respectively, the government together with the Red Crescent Societies of Bangladesh implemented a Cyclone Preparedness Programme, whose effectiveness was well demonstrated by the much reduced death toll of less than 3 500 during the November 2007 super cyclone Sidr. In France, following the devastating December 1999 winter storm Lothar, the public “Vigilance” warning system was developed as part of revised emergency planning and response mechanisms. Later, this was upgraded to include heat/health warnings, following the intense heat wave in 2003 which led to over 15,000 deaths in France, and to include river flood risk warnings following a major flood in 2007.

To capitalize on these national successes and facilitate sharing of experiences, an international effort coordinated by WMO documented good practices from early warning systems in Bangladesh, China’s Shanghai city, Cuba, France, Germany, Japan and the United States and developed guidelines on the necessary institutional arrangements. These cases have been published in a new book “Institutional Partnerships in Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems” and will be used for training targeted at high-level officials from hydrometeorological and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) agencies and for strengthening capacities of NMHSs to support DRM and MHEWS through coordinated DRR and adaptation national/regional capacity development projects.

A detailed synthesis of the seven good practices revealed ten principles common to all, irrespective of the political, social, and institutional setting in each country. The ten principles are as follows:

  1. There is a strong political recognition of the benefits of EWS reflected in harmonized national to local disaster risk management policies, planning, legislation and budgeting.
  2. Effective EWS are built upon four components: (i) hazard detection, monitoring and forecasting; (ii) analyzing risks and incorporation of risk information in emergency planning and warnings; (iii) disseminating timely and “authoritative” warnings; and (iv) community planning and preparedness.
  3. EWS stakeholders are identified and their roles and responsibilities and coordination mechanisms clearly defined and documented within national to local plans, legislation, directives, Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs), etc.
  4. EWS capacities are supported by adequate resources (e.g., human, financial, equipment, etc.) across national to local levels and the system is designed and for long-term sustainability.
  5. Hazard, exposure and vulnerability information are used to carry-out risk assessments at different levels, as critical input into emergency planning and development of warning messages.
  6. Warning messages are: (i) clear, consistent and include risk information; (ii) designed with consideration for linking threat levels to emergency preparedness and response actions (e.g., using colour, flags) and understood by authorities and the population; and (iii) issued from a single (or unified), recognized and “authoritative” source.
  7. Warning dissemination mechanisms are able to reach the authorities, other EWS stake-holders and the population at risk in a timely and reliable fashion.
  8. Emergency response plans are developed with consideration for hazard/risk levels, characteristics of the exposed communities.
  9. Training on hazard/risk/emergency preparedness awareness integrated in various formal and informal educational programmes with regular drills to ensure operational readiness.
  10. Effective feedback and improvement mechanisms are in place at all levels of EWS to provide systematic evaluation and ensure system improvement over time.

This MHEWS initiative supports development and strengthening of early warning systems with systematic DRR projects currently underway in South East Europe, Caribbean, Central America and Southeast Asia.

National and Regional Assessments related to MHEWS
WMO DRR Services Division has conducted a number of assessments of WMO Members to document national capacities gaps and needs to contribute to all aspects of disaster risk reduction including risk assessment, risk reduction including sectoral planning, early warning systems and education and knowledge sharing. Three major assessments related to MHEWS include:

  1. 2006 DRR benchmark national assessment of WMO Members which assessed. Of the 187 members of WMO at the time, 139 (74 per cent) countries participated in this survey. In conjunction with the national assessment, a regional assessment was conducted to assess regional capacities and partnerships that could be leveraged to support meteorological, hydrological and climate related information to countries, particularly those with the least resources. The final report is available for download here.
  2. A comprehensive assessment of the institutional and technical capacities, gaps and needs of the Caribbean region to support MHEWS and risk assessment was conducted by the WMO in 2010-2011. The objective was to facilitate capacity development in a systematic way by leveraging existing capacities project and development in the region. The outcomes of this assessment are presented in the report “Strengthening of Risk Assessment and Multi-hazard Early Warning Systems for Meteorological, Hydrological and Climate Hazards in the Caribbean: final report”.
  3. As part of South East Europe Project, an assessment of the capacities, identify gaps and needs in disaster risk reduction and EWS, particularly with respect to the provision of information and services for meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards in South East Europe. The assessment involved a systematic analysis of the DRR institutional framework in the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA beneficiaries, and the role of the NMHSs in this framework. The study also considered the core capacities of NMHSs, as well as the operational cooperation between NMHSs and other technical agencies and centres at the national, regional and international levels. For more details please go to the South East Europe webpage.

MHEWS Publications

Document / Presentation Title

Publisher (date)


Institutional Partnerships in Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: A Compilation of Seven National Good Practices and Guiding Principles, Springer Verlag, ISBN

Springer Verlag (2012)

Link to buy

Strengthening of Risk Assessment and Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems for Meteorological, Hydrological and Climate Hazards in the Caribbean: Final Report

WMO (2012)


Strengthening Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems and Risk Assessment in the Western Balkans and Turkey: assessment of capacities, gaps and needs

WMO (2012)


Capacity Assessment of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services in Support of Disaster Risk Reduction: Analysis of the 2006 WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Country-level Survey

WMO (2008)



Presentations & Videos of Good Practices in MHEWS

Good Practice




The Bangladesh Cyclone Preparedness Program


The Tropical Cyclone Early Warning System of Cuba


The French Vigilance System

Download Link

Educational cartoons on the French Vigilance System


The Warning Management of the Deutscher Wetterdienst


Multi-Hazard Early Warning System in Japan

Shanghai, China

The Shanghai Multi-Hazard Early Warning System

United States

Multi-Hazard Early Warning System of the United States National Weather Service



WMO Meetings and associated websites related to MHEWS




Final Report

Special Session on Disaster Risk Reduction and Early Warning Dissemination and Communication Issues in Central America and the Caribbean

Miami, USA

1 April 2011


Strengthening Regional Cooperation to Support Forecasting with Multi-Hazard Approach in RA IV

George Town, Cayman Islands

7 March 2011


National Disaster Coordinators and Meteorologists Dialogue Advancing Multi-Hazards Early Warning Systems in the Caribbean

Montego Bay, Jamaica

6 December 2010


Technical Cooperation Workshop for the Development of the Caribbean Regional Cooperation Programme in Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems

Christ Church, Barbados

2-5 November 2010


Technical Conference on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems during the XVth Session of WMO Regional Association III

Bogota, Colombia

20–21 September 2010


Training Workshop on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems with focus on Institutional Partnerships and Coordination

San Jose, Costa Rica

22-26 March 2010


Expert Meeting for the Preparation of the Multi Hazard Early Warning Systems Training Workshops

Geneva, Switzerland

13-14 January 2010


Training Workshop on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems with focus on Institutional Coordination and Cooperation

Pula, Croatia

1-3 October 2009


Second Experts’ Symposium on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems with Focus on the Role of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services

Toulouse, France

5-7 May 2009


Expert Meeting on NMHSs’ Participation in Disaster Risk Reduction Coordination Mechanisms and Early Warning Systems

Geneva, Switzerland

26-28 November 2007

First Symposium on Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems for Integrated Disaster Risk Management

WMO Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland

23-24 May 2006








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