National tsunami preparations an absolute priority for Indian Ocean tsunami warning systemCountries in the Indian Ocean must give priority to helping coastal communities to protect themselves in case of a tsunami warning, delegates were told at the 3rd meeting of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, which opened here today.
“An earthquake that occurs close to a coastline can produce a tsunami that reaches the shore within minutes, before any official warning can be issued,” said Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which organized the meeting.
“There will be no time for confirmation from sea-level stations, and the authorities in charge of activating mitigation measures will confront the worst case scenario: having to act in few minutes with incomplete information,” he added.
The meeting takes places just two weeks after the tsunami in eastern Java that killed several hundred people, and left tens of thousands homeless. That tragic event, said Mr Bernal, highlighted the urgency of improving national and local tsunami warning and response capacities.
Although a great deal of progress has been made on the establishment of the system, which is now capable of providing information on earthquakes and tsunamis in real time, many of the 28 countries in the region still do not have in place the capacity to transmit that information to coastal communities quickly.
Mr Bernal’s comments were echoed by UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former U.S. President Bill Clinton. In a message to the meeting, Mr Clinton pointed to the challenge of addressing “the last mile of the warning systems at the national level”.
“Public awareness, education and community preparedness are crucial in making sure that warning systems are effective,” Mr Clinton said.
Indonesia’s Minister of Science and Technology, Kusmayanto Kadiman, also emphasized the importance of building national response systems to tsunamis to ensure that the “right information arrives at the right place in the right time.” Mr Kadiman urged countries of the region to use all possible means to achieve this, including loudspeakers in mosques and community bells where they existed. High technology alone could not provide all the answers he said, especially in isolated coastal areas.
Achieving this has now become the top priority for the Intergovernmental Coordination Group, which, over the next two days will to examine ways of reaching this goal.
By December 2005, the system included 24 out of a possible 28 operating national Tsunami Information Centers, capable of receiving and distributing Tsunami Advisories around the clock, from Tokyo (the Japan Meteorological Agency) and Hawaii (the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center). The centres have been tested several times through communication drills.
The system also has an improved seismographic network of 25 new stations linked in real time to centres of analysis and a real-time sea-level network of 23 new stations.
There are also three Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) sensors being tested – one deployed by Malaysia and two by Germany. To this we should add the data from the seismographic stations contributed by the Commission for the Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
The Intergovernmental Coordination Group includes representatives from each of the Indian Ocean countries. It oversees the establishment of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission provides the Secretariat for the System.