Why Did Notification System Not Work During Recent Earthquake and What Does Nurali Aliyev Have to Do with It?
In the spring of 2022, the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Almaty published a lot on the public procurement website. They wanted to construct 28 seismic stations for the automated early warning system for severe earthquakes in Almaty (ASRO - Ed.) for a billion tenge. The first tender did not occur, but "TNS-INTEC" LLP got it the second time. At the time of signing the contract, the company was affiliated with Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grandson Nurali Aliyev. Orda has looked into the matter.
On the night of January 23, Almaty residents experienced an earthquake. According to seismologists, the epicenter was located on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. The magnitude was 6.7, whereas 5 points were felt in Almaty. Almaty residents were warned about the threat by Android phones' push notifications.
Kazakhstan also has its own instant emergency notification system — the free mobile application "Darmen". The application was developed by I2NIK company for an order of the Almaty Department of Emergency Situations as a part of the Smart Almaty concept.
The application was supposed to warn Almaty residents about such an emergency situation in advance. But in fact, the warning from the Ministry of Emergency Situations appeared in the application 34 minutes after the first tremors.
Altair Uyzbayev, CEO of the Darmen app, has explained that they only provide partners with the opportunity to send alerts through it, but they do not send anything themselves.
We provide a tool with which the Emergency Department sends all alerts, including earthquake warnings. Thus, we are aggregators. Our positioning is a product that provides reliable and fast notification of people. If a person receives something through Darmen, this is reliable first-hand information. In the case of using social networks, you often encounter fakes. The time of receipt of the notification depends on the creator, in this case, on the emergency department, said Uyzbayev.
But why didn't the notification come in advance, as planned by the Almaty Akimat and the Emergency Department of the city?
Uyzbayev explained that the city akim's office has created its own early warning system. Its principle is to collect information from seismic sensors installed around Almaty according to a certain algorithm. This information is subsequently transmitted to the staff of the Emergency Department. 28 such sensors are currently in the city, but, according to the department, the system is not automated.
Now it is being calibrated, that is, set up. They are working to improve the accuracy of detection by alert parameters. And at the moment, they are not sending anything in automatic mode yet. When seismic stations record earthquakes, they manually determine their parameters. While this new system is being calibrated, they are working as before. They record the earthquake, then it takes them about 20 minutes to determine the accuracy of the parameters. After all, they cannot provide false information. Therefore, they double-check it, and it usually takes some time, which causes a delay, explains Uyzbayev.
Why did Google send an alert faster then? The answer: the amount of data processed. The corporation has introduced a free service into its Android operating system. Its uses seismic sensors, i.e. accelerometers, that determine the movement of a device in the event of an earthquake.
Google takes data from many accelerometers and creates one large virtual seismic sensor, ensuring accuracy thanks to the number of phones.
The Emergency Department of Almaty later explained what happened with the seismic stations.
The project was implemented in stages: 11 seismic stations were built in 2022, and 17 more in 2023. Now the system has been put into trial operation and, according to foreign practice, it is undergoing a period of testing and is in test mode. Testing will last approximately until the end of the first half of 2024, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said.
As mentioned above, in the spring of 2022, the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Almaty published a lot on the public procurement website. For a billion tenge, they wanted to construct 28 seismic stations for the automated early warning system for severe earthquakes in Almaty (ASRO).
The system should have included:
- Autonomous seismic stations with independent uninterruptible power supplies (solar panels and accumulators)
- A central server in the server room that provides data collection, storage, processing, and analysis from the ASRO station
- Automated operator workstations with personal computers
- An IT product with functions for receiving, processing, and transmitting data from a seismic station to an automated work system (AWS - Ed.) and a mobile application.
Those wishing to participate in public procurement were able to submit applications until April 14, 2022. It ended up being canceled, however.
The new tender was postponed until June 2022 over the void procurement purchase and a single supplier was later determined. TNS-INTEC LLP emerged as the supplier. The agreement was signed on June 25. The head of the Emergency Department at that time, Ruslan Kasybaev, put down his signature. He would later be sentenced to three years in prison on charges of abuse of power.
For the work on the design, development, implementation, and installation of the automated system, the general contractor, TNS-INTEC LLP, was paid 1.1 billion tenge including VAT. The client divided it into two tranches from the local budget for 2022 and 2023.
According to the agreement, they committed to commissioning the finished facilities in mid-2023.
How Were Sensors Supposed to Work?
It follows from the technical specification that the system should be integrated with the Darmen mobile application and other Smart-city programs. As it turns out, there is a whole chain of people between the seismic station and the application who decide when and what to send to Almaty residents via push notifications.
28 seismic stations were to be equipped with special nodes for transmitting data to the server of the Almaty Development Center JSC using satellite or backup (mobile) communication systems. From the central control room, the information had to be duplicated to the monitors of operators in the control room of the Emergency Department of Almaty and the LLP "National Scientific Center for Seismological Observations and Research (NSCSO)” of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kazakhstan (formerly LLP "SOME").
According to Altair Uyzbayev, CEO of the Darmen app, they can only send out the information received from official sources. If the Emergency Department or NSCSO LLP does not provide earthquake data, then it is impossible to send it out.
The first information should be given by the Emergency Department, always. They have established credibility among people. They should send an alert that something has happened. By doing this, (they - Ed.) tell people that we are aware, do not be afraid. And also provide instructions. Information should be provided in a clear and short message, said Uyzbayev.
Orda.kz has written about the connection between the first president's grandson, Nurali Aliyev, and the company "TNS-INTEC" LLP. At the time of publication, on July 29, 2022, the founder of the company was Darmen Holding LLP. The holding, in turn, was owned by Kuanyshbek Zhumanov and Greatex Capital Holding B.V.
The first co-owner worked as the director of the private charity foundation "Zhanartu" founded and formed by Nurali Aliyev. Linkedin indicates that until May 2023, the director of Greatex Capital Holding B.V. was Temirlan Yesengaziev, who for six years ran the Donatello hotel chain owned by Nurali Aliyev.
In addition to state contracts with the Ministry of Emergency Situations, representatives of the company concluded contracts with Astana-Energia JSC for major repairs of buildings and structures of CHPP-1 and reconstruction of the fuel oil facilities at CHPP-2.
In 2019, the aforementioned ministry also ordered the construction of an automated mudflow hazard monitoring system in the basins of the Kishi and Ulken rivers of Almaty, Kargaly and Aksay. A Kokshetau Construction Department has been a client of TNS-INTEC LLP. The company built nine-story residential buildings without external engineering networks for the department.
In 2023, the company contributed 73 million tenge to the state budget, although earlier the amount was more.
It turned out that it was more difficult not to spend 1.1 billion tenge on the system, but to calibrate it so that it worked like a Swiss watch.
Majilis deputy Ekaterina Smyshlyaeva commented on Information about Nurali Aliyev and 1.1 billion tenge for the warning system in Almaty today, 24/01/23.
I heard about the information, I was interested, I can’t comment now, because it doesn’t fit into the topic, that is, where it stood out. <...>. We are legislators, that is, we must resolve this issue at the level of law, I think I’ll figure it out there, where social payments were spent, well, we now have one question about communications in our hands, about civil protection, the warning system, which depends on us, we will do everything to make the national system work. The Second question. I will not name the cost regardless, I am not an administrator, not a regulator, the deputy said.
Antikor also commented.
We are aware of the information, we have read the post of our colleague and member of the public council, Dinar Smagulov. Regarding this fact, the department of the agency for the city of Almaty registered an appeal from the public association Adildik Zholy, the materials have now been sent to the authorized body for verification and, based on their results, an appropriate procedural decision will be made, which will be communicated to the media and the public,Antikor’s representative, Arman Tleukyenov, said.
Ask the Almaty Akimat
Speaking to reporters on the Majilis's sidelines, Vice Minister of Digital Development and Aerospace Industry Askhat Orazbekov explained why Almaty residents received SMS warnings about the earthquake later than expected.
According to him, there was no technical malfunction in the system and the slow send-out is to blame.
Telecom operators, in accordance with the sixth article of the law on civil protection, are obliged to send mass SMS messages. They do it. The problem is the technology. SMS messages arrive quite slowly - in a few hours. In emergency mode, it is impossible to promptly notify citizens about an event.
He explained that on January 23, deputies had already discussed this issue.
There are technologies in the world. In many countries, they are used — these are instant messages that appear on the screen, no matter what application you are using, if the phone is turned on, you receive this message. Often with an alarm. We have such a solution in Kazakhstan, this product has already been developed and tested by operators together with the Ministry of Emergency Situations. This solution is truly relayed among operators within a few seconds, it can be distributed locally, point-by-point, depending on where it happens - at base stations, in some place. This is a very good solution, we discussed with the deputies about introducing a provision in article six of the Law on Civil Protection that allows such a solution to be used. Financing is required from the state, Orazbekov said.
When asked why there had been such a slow send-out and who should control it, the Vice-minister explained that telecom operators should be asked:
We are not on top of the equipment of telecom operators yet. But when they tell us that we have to control the technological aspects of the work, then we will. There was no malfunction. There was a slow send-out. When was that? On the night of January 23rd, and now 24. We did not have time (to check — Ed.).
Journalists recalled that during the 2017 earthquake, Kazakhstanis also did not receive alerts and asked how much they had spent in six years to improve the emergency warning system in the country.
I cannot speak for what happened six years ago, but I do not absolve myself of responsibility and will bring up information for 2017. We will analyze it and provide it to you. Regarding the billion that was spent in Almaty to create an alert system, all questions are to be addressed to the Akimat and The Emergency Department, Orazbekov replied.
He stressed that there are ways to solve the problem, but they are quite local and will not allow covering large areas. According to him, this is mobile base stations.
Antennas - mast structures are installed on the chassis of a car. During an emergency, such a station can be moved to a location and provide it with communication. Now the deputies have proposed to introduce a norm into the bill that obliges operators to have such base stations in all regions of the Republic of Kazakhstan. On the other hand, the Ministry of Emergency Situations needs to develop a mechanism to compensate for loss during an emergency, the Vice Minister added.
On the morning of January 24, at a Majilis plenary session, they discussed why Almaty residents did not receive a timely warning about the recent earthquake and how to make urgent information instantly available to people.
DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece compiled from multiple articles. The text has been modified, the content is the same. The texts have been updated as of 24/01/24 to reflect currently available information. Please refer to the original articles for accuracy.
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