Local knowledge and planning the key to a successful tsunami warning systemCoastal populations in vulnerable Indian Ocean States must be “tsunami-savvy” to save lives when a tsunami strikes concluded participants at the 3rd meeting of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, which ended here today.
“This meeting showed us that Indian Ocean nations have made considerable progress on developing national tsunami warning systems, but the most vulnerable States still face a major challenge in protecting their coastal populations,” said Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which organized the meeting.
“We have a good tsunami detection network in operation,” Mr Bernal continued, “but the best technology will not help those populations living on a coast close to the epicentre of a major earthquake. In such situations, people have only a few minutes to react. They must be ‘tsunami-savvy’. This means they must know what to do when a major earthquake strikes, and local authorities must have solid planning in place to get people away from the area as quickly as possible.”
The development of national response systems was the main focus of the meeting, with delegates agreeing that the ability to “go the last mile” and reach coastal communities should be considered a top priority.
They agreed to reinforce and accelerate work to this end, while continuing to build on the capacity to detect tsunamis and improve communication channels to ensure the delivery of timely and accurate information when tsunami events occurred.
“There’s been an explosion of activity in the countries of the region over the past 18 months to build their national response systems,” Mr Bernal said. “Thailand, for example, is now confident it can get tsunami information rapidly to people on the beach, and several others are getting close to this.”
However, several nations with coastlines close to fault lines, such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Oman and Iran, remain vulnerable.
The regional system now includes 24 national Tsunami Information Centres, capable of receiving and distributing Tsunami Advisories around the clock. These centres receive tsunami bulletins from data and analysis centres in Tokyo (the Japan Meteorological Agency) and Hawaii (the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre). The national centres have been tested several times through communication drills.
The Coordination Group’s next meeting will be held in Kenya early in 2007.