July 10, 2006 The Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System is up and running as scheduled, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura has announced. Eighteen months after the tragic tsunami of December 2004, the entire Indian Ocean region has a warning system capable of receiving and distributing tsunami advisories around the clock.
“By the end of July 2006,” Mr Matsuura said, “this initial system will be capable of [...] improved and faster detection of strong, tsunamogenic earthquakes; increased precision in the location of the epi- and hypocentres of earthquakes [...]; confirmation of the presence of a tsunami wave in the ocean after a strong earthquake; issuing a ‘tsunami watch’, ‘regional watch’ or a ‘global tsunami ocean warning’; and calling off ‘tsunami watches’ and ‘regional ‘tsunami watches.”
Mr Matsuura made his comments in an address to the Executive Council of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), which closed its annual meeting at the Organization’s Headquarters today. The Commission, which established the Pacific Tsunami Warning System in the mid 1960s, is coordinating the establishment of the Indian Ocean System.
Twenty-six out of a possible 28 national tsunami information centres, capable of receiving and distributing tsunami advisories around the clock have been set up in Indian Ocean countries. The seismographic network has been improved, with 25 new stations being deployed and linked in real-time to analysis centres. There are also three Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) sensors. The Commission for the Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is also contributing data from seismographic stations.
At present, information bulletins are issued from Japan and Hawaii, pending a final decision on the location of regional centres in the Indian Ocean. This will be facilitated when important additional contribution including instruments such as deep-sea pressure sensors and satellites become available in late 2007 and 2008.
“We can be justly proud of having done all this and much more,” Mr Matsuura said. “[...] However, this successful work is far from being finished. The new systems need to be tested in real situations. During this last year, nature has given us ample opportunities to detect possible weak points. New communication tools – like small messaging services (SMS) – are vulnerable to saturation when they are most needed. New siren systems are heard on one side of a bay but not on the other. New seismographic networks cannot depend exclusively on the automatic determination of epicenters [...] in sum: greater capacity-building is needed across the board.”
Two major challenges must still be faced, Mr Matsuura said. The first is to reinforce international coordination. “We cannot afford the risk of having a disparate array of national systems with little of no coordination,” said the Director-General. “The open and free exchange of data, and the full interoperability of national systems, is absolutely crucial for success.”
The second challenge, he added, is to ensure long-term investment in the system “securing the ‘downstream flow’ of information, from the warning centres to populations and communities at risk.” “A timely 100 percent accurate and precise warning will not provide any protection,” Mr Matsuura said, “if people do not know how to respond to the emergency. Early warning is as much an issue of ‘soft’ organizational technology, communication and community-based systems, as it is of ‘hard’ science and technology, numerical modeling and instrumental networks. [...] Building national preparedness is the most difficult part of establishing early warning systems.”
Progress towards these goals and further development of the system will be discussed at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean tsunami Warning System, which will be held in Bali from 31 July 31 to 2 August.
The Indian Ocean System constitutes a vital component of a global system, which the UNESCO-IOC has been working towards. To this end, warning systems are also being established in the North East Atlantic, Mediterranean and Adjoining Seas, and the Caribbean. Protection is also being reinforced in the South West Pacific and the South China Sea.
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