Apr. 12, 2012 In theory, national governments should issue tsunami watches and warnings. For sure, they should be the only ones issuing evacuation orders. But social media are upending government control.
Sri Lanka is not located in an earthquake zone. So when those of us who felt the tremors, our first reaction was to doubt our senses. People texted each other to verify. In my case, I learned that the tremor I felt was caused by an earthquake from a tweet within 10-15 minutes of the event. My first reaction was to check the magnitude and depth of the quake from the best scientific source I knew: the United States Geological Service. My first tweet, based on confirming the event at the USGS site, was at 1429 local time (20 minutes after the earthquake)
I sent several tweets, sticking pretty closely to USGS data. Unlike in 2004, the phones were working (within networks, though performance was patchy in locations, especially near the coast line) and Internet was not slowed down noticeably. Calls from one network to another were subject to congestion delays, suggesting that the interconnection links had been inadequately dimensioned.
Tweets kept flying. I and several others active in social media kept emphasizing that only a "watch" existed, that people should be alert and not do anything for now.
I even stuck my neck out and said that given the depth, it was unlikely that a tsunami would be generated. Even though the 2012 earthquake occurred in deep ocean much further away from Aceh than in 2004, I felt that the key would be reports from Aceh and kept checking for reports. None could be found. Only official news of a moderate tsunami came from Pacific Tsunami Warning Center's Bulletin #3 (at 1014Z, more than 90 mts after the earthquake).
People were checking government sources. One tweeted that the Department of Meteorology website was silent on the subject. I checked within an hour of the quake: it had been last updated 19 October 2010. The screen shot below was taken even later at 1605 local time (1035 Z). The official warning and evacuation order came at 1630 (1100 Z). That was AFTER the model's predicted arrival times for southern and eastern Sri Lanka.
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