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Tsunami Warning System Up and Running 97

SEWilco writes "UNESCO has announced that their Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System is up and running as scheduled. From the article: 'Twenty-six out of a possible 28 national tsunami information centers, 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 centers. 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."
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Tsunami Warning System Up and Running

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  • by WinEveryGame ( 978424 ) * on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:36PM (#15687878) Homepage
    While this is a welcome achievement, a key challenge is to get the local processes in place to effectively utilize the early warning. Unfortunately some of the most vulnerable spots are far-flung areas with lack of resources and processes to handle effective evacuations etc.
    • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:04PM (#15687943)
      Realistically, many areas are gonna get hit hard no matter how much warning they get. There's not much you can do about flooding for example if there isn't anywhere nearby above sea level. I've heard it said that Bangladesh is a disaster waiting to happen because of exactly that sort of terrain and climate.

      What you can do with tsunamis though is give the people who can react a chance to do something. Even fifteen minutes warning might save lives - enough time to get the hell away from the beach and seek shelter.

      You're right that it won't be enough in far flung areas. But an imperfect system that will do some good is better than no system - better a cheap condom than none at all to draw a crude analogy...
      • by patio11 ( 857072 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @10:24PM (#15688676)
        After a conference talking about the responses to the Sumatura (sp?) tsunami I've come to the conclusion that South East Asian Distaster Preparedness Manager is about the worst job ever:

        * You've got about three hours to six hours from the time the earthquake is detected to the time the tsunami makes landfall. The US, which has none of the problems I'm about to outline, can barely accomplish a passable evacuation over three days (72 hours).

        * In those same three hours, you have to evacuate between several hundred thousand to several million people, spread over multiple countries and an absolutely gigantic geographic region.

        * The overwhelming majority of them live in coastal cities which have no significant landmass which is high above sea level.

        * Your challenges include the fact that most of these folks do not own a television or radio, many of them do not trust your government (and some will shoot your agents on sight), road conditions are poor and gridlock is a fact of life *every* morning to say nothing of when everyone is taking the one single-lane dirt road to safety, and you've got to coordinate the efforts of multiple national governments, most of which are barely competent in the best of times.

        * The first time you have a false alarm and order the *immediate and that means NOW* shutdown of 6+ national economies for a day, your program will get canceled. Murphy's Law being what it is, you will be shut down just in time to miss The Big One.

        * Pick an hour, any hour, for the tsunami to occur. If it occurs in mid-morning your populace will be gridlocked and unreachable for warning alerts. If it occurs during the workday, ditto. If it occurs after work hours or, God forbid, during the night you'll never get the news to everybody in time.
        • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @10:52PM (#15688753) Journal
          Sure, the Bush Administration's version of FEMA did an atrocious job of handling Katrina, but tsunami response and hurricane response are much different problems, and the tsunami response is designed with the goal of letting people know quickly so they can Run Away, rather than worrying about whose responsibility it is to clean up the damage afterwards.

          My wife grew up in Hawaii and California, so while I was learning things in elementary school about "that's the local volunteer fire department siren" and "if the CONELRAD Alert says the Russians are attacking, hide under the desk and kiss your ass goodbye", she was learning things like "that's the tsunami warning siren, if it goes off Run Uphill", and "if there's an earthquake, go stand in the doorway where the ceiling won't fall on you." First decent-sized earthquake after we moved to California, she went over to the doorway and yelled at me for not knowing to do the same thing, but I was just as clueless about that as I was about what the Granny Goose commercials on TV were trying to sell.

          When Hurricane Iniki trashed Kauai in 1992, about 6 people were killed, 1400 homes destroyed, and 5000 seriously damaged, but there was enough advance preparation that most people were safe; that's the sort of thing that happens when you've got useful local management, and back in those days FEMA had just been dealing with Hurricane Andrew so they had a warmup round, and they were much stronger politically as opposed to being a dumping ground for Bush the Younger's less competent friends.

        • South East Asian Distaster Preparedness Manager is about the worst job ever

          One advantage:

          • You're the first to get the warning. Run to high ground now.
    • Unfortunately some of the most vulnerable spots are far-flung areas with lack of resources and processes to handle effective evacuations etc.

      Do they have TV ?

      Wait for it, wait for it, NOW ! EVERYONE HOLD YOUR BREATH !
    • Some of the vulnerable areas are islands with no appreciable land area that is more than a couple of feet above sea level. They probably have the greatest challenge. Even with a warning it's unlikely there will be time to get everyone off the island to somewhere safe.
      • Some of the vulnerable areas are islands with no appreciable land area that is more than a couple of feet above sea level. They probably have the greatest challenge. Even with a warning it's unlikely there will be time to get everyone off the island to somewhere safe.

        Like, say, boats ?

        In open sea, a tsunami is just a few meters high with low-angle sides. A rowboat would clear it just fine. And most people who live in small islands have boats and can reach them quickly (since the island is small).

        Hec

        • Boats are a possiblity but certainly not the best one. I think I'd prefer a ship over a boat but then again I'm a belt and suspenders kind of guy. If stuck in a boat instead of being well inland and well above sea level, I'd also want to be far offshore in nice deep water.
    • by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @07:42PM (#15688299)

      ... a key challenge is to get the local processes in place to effectively utilize the early warning. Unfortunately some of the most vulnerable spots are far-flung areas with lack of resources and processes to handle effective evacuations etc.

      I guarantee you that the people who are working on this system are aware of this and thinking about ways to address it. Broadly, there are two things that need to be done: advance prep, and getting the warning out.

      Advance prep means:

      1. Identify local leaders in each settlement. (Depends on size - mayor? elders? local police/firemen/etc?)
      2. Get the local leaders to identify a rendezvous point, namely the local high ground. The monitoring stations should also keep a list of designated rendezvous points for each settlement.
      3. Put a cache of emergency supplies at the rendezvous point, eg water, first-aid supplies, blankets. These can either be supplied locally or through aid organizations. Obviously this will have to be secured somehow - unsecured caches might get stolen. Preferably, entrust this to somebody who lives at the rendezvous point (or close to it) and make sure it's more profitable for them to keep the cache intact than sell it themselves. It'd be a good idea to check the cache periodically (refresh the water, replace old medical supplies, etc).
      4. Announce the rendezvous point in advance - tell people where to go BEFORE it's a crisis. The local leaders should be involved in figuring out the best way to do this for their area - could range from walking around knocking on doors to a mail campaign, posters, requiring teachers to tell their students, whatever works locally. This should be repeated periodically. Actual drills may or may not be feasible, depending on the location.
      5. Make sure each area has some way of getting the warning and passing it on. See next section.

      One problem with this is that there may not BE a local spot suitable for a rendezvous. If you live on an atoll where the highest land is 2 meters above sea level, there's no high ground. In this case, it might be necessary to build something. Perhaps Engineers without Borders can build a bunker. Or maybe a completely alternate plan will have to be developed. It'll depend on the exact local circumstances.

      When the tsunami is detected, it'll be a matter of issuing warnings to as many people as possible as fast as possible, with specific recommendations. For maximum effect, they'll need to use every channel of communication possible.

      1. Radio. Radios are cheap, and radio stations can reach large areas fast, especially AM stations with high-powered transmitters. Shortwave has even better range, but comparatively few people listen to it or have a shortwave-capable radio. So the monitoring centers should maintain a list of radio stations that broadcast in coastal areas, with current contact information, so that they can contact them directly. One phone call to a radio station can reach thousands or even millions of listeners. In remote areas, it'd be a good idea to distribute radios, or possibly sell them cheap. Emergency models with built-in solar panels and hand cranks would be good for undeveloped regions.
      2. Television. Any television stations in the affected areas can be just as powerful at getting warnings out as the radio, so they should be notified immediately as well.
      3. Government. This particularly applies to heavily populated areas - the local authorities can get the word out and hopefully also help people get going.
      4. Web pages. Passing the word to popular web pages for the local area (eg newspapers, etc) is another way. This is probably less effective than any of the previous methods since it depends on people looking at it at the right time. But if it gets the warning to even a few more people, it's probably worth it.

      Lastly, there needs to be a message with specific recommendations. Namely:

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The greatest local challenge is that most 3rd world residents will
      stay in their house to safeguard their belongings from looters.

      Without effective local policing, Asian residents seldom evacuate.

      Additionally, one false warning and future ones will be ignored until
      the next big one.
  • A peace of war. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:41PM (#15687891)
    " The Commission for the Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is also contributing data from seismographic stations."

    Nice to know something good came from the Cold War.
    • Nice to know something good came from the Cold War.
      In Soviet Russia jokes...
    • Re:A peace of war. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by minus_273 ( 174041 )
      as if the fall of communism and socialism were not enough.
    • Re:A peace of war. (Score:5, Informative)

      by brunokummel ( 664267 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:46PM (#15688029) Journal
      Well, I'm pretty sure I could write pages and pages listing the good things the cold war brought to the world, but i guess nobody would take the time to read them so im gonna list just a few: Communication sattelites, anti-flame clothing, orthodontic appliances, arterial measuring devices, Heart's pacemaker, smoke detectors, better airplanes engines, GPS, weather forecast, not to mention our good old internet...

      • Re:A peace of war. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by suffe ( 72090 )
        Of course a lot of good came from the cold war, as has come from rather a many wars. If you wanted to you could run around starting wars just for that reason. [Of course, not all wars give birth to good things.] Still, the question one has to ask though is; is it alright for the people of now to ask the people of then to pay the price for benefits we receive. It's almost like compulsory military service; sucks while you do it but after it's over you have some pretty useful skills and some good stories.

        And y
        • It's almost like compulsory military service; sucks while you do it but after it's over you have some pretty useful skills and some good stories.

          Following the rule "never volunteer" means that you'll get stuck with the (likely shitty) task no one volunteered for, and also look lazy. The trick is volunteering as soon as there's something you don't mind doing; that way you'll avoid the nasty task and appearance of laziness.

          Oh, and you also learn to shoot with an assault rifle, but that's a secondary sur

      • the cold war brought to the world, ... not to mention our good old internet... No no, that was Al Gore.
  • by celardore ( 844933 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:50PM (#15687909)
    While I feel that this system is generally useful and productive, how often do tsunamis happen? I wonder if this "early warning system" will even be used in the next 50 years.
    • by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:56PM (#15687927) Journal
      well according to wikipedia there have been at least 6 fairly big tsunami's since the 60's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami [wikipedia.org]). Although the boxing-day one was the biggest in recent memory thousands of lives could be saved in the next 50 years even if (which we hope) no other big tsunamis happen
      • I respect the fact that the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 was one of the worst natural disaster in history.

        I also respect that it would be unacceptable not to make an early warning system to prevent a so massive death toll in a future tsunami.

        But isn't it a bit political? I mean, how often do massive tsunamis occur in the Indian Ocean? As far as I know it's fairly rare. I think maybe UNESCO should play it safe and construct a worldwide system, or they'll look mighty stupid next time a tsunami hits someplac
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Yes.
        • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @06:10PM (#15688089)
          I'm pretty sure that the region they're covering with this system is more vulnerable than most. Nowhere else that I can think of has large populations that are near the mainland coast or on islands. There are a few other equally densely populated areas, and plenty of settled coastal regions, but the combination of both is rare. Remember that this is one of the most densely populated regions in the world - China is as bad or worse, but not as vulnerable to tidal waves.

          Early warning systems in both southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent will do the most good. Rio is vulnerable to be sure, but a disaster there won't be as far reaching, or claim as many lives. Also, if we're talking natural disasters in central America, I'd worry more about hurricanes in the gulf of Mexico than tidal waves in the south Atlantic.

          That being said, a global system is a good idea, assuming we could find the funding needed.
    • by LiftOp ( 637065 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:57PM (#15687930) Homepage
      Any opportunity to link these kinds of data systems is a good thing. Seismic data is most useful when combined with as many data points as possible. Tsunamis aside, the long-term benefits of these networks from an earthquake prediction standpoint will be enormous.
    • Why? Just because a big tsunami hit recently doesn't mean the chances of it reoccuring are getting any smaller. A quick cursory search revealed this graphic that showed the amount of earthquakes > magnitude 5 per year is at least 1 all around the indian ocean. http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/density/eq_density.html [usgs.gov]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 09, 2006 @04:56PM (#15687926)
    "300 foot wave approaching at 200mph. Grab your ankles and kiss your ass goodbye"
  • Timely (Score:2, Funny)

    by RealSurreal ( 620564 ) *
    Let's hope the warning system is quicker than a speeding Slashdot editor. From TFA : "Publication Date 29-06-2006 8:00 am" - over a week ago.
  • Good news! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Manip ( 656104 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:00PM (#15687937)
    Before the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, American researchers actually knew it was coming but didn't have a way to worn the people in its path. They literally in the same position you or I would be in if we too knew it was going to happen.

    Who would you phone, in a couple of minutes? The embassies?
    That is about as effective as standing out on the front lawn and yellowing "There's a tsunami coming!"

    So as I said, this is great news. It will allow international researchers to warn places of the impending wave, and helpfully save a few lives.
    • Re:Good news! (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      In fact the staff at the Pacific tsunami Warning Center delt with just this as the tsunami worked it way across the Indian Ocean. they did manage to warn Kenya in time. The local authorities there were able to take actions which resulted in there being but one death.
    • Re:Good news! (Score:4, Informative)

      by spagetti_code ( 773137 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @06:14PM (#15688098)
      Actually that is kinda what happened in NZ recently - kinda funny, but also pertinant.

      The core is that an earthquate happened in the alutians earlier this year in the night. The early warning system went off - some govt official here look at it and decided the risk was too low, and ignored it.

      Somehow information about the earthquake and "possible" wave was picked up by [bbc.co.uk] overseas [cnn.com] press [usgs.gov] and reported as roughly a "tsunami is heading for the east coast of NZ".

      Overseas people began calling NZers [stuff.co.nz] they knew on the east coast telling them to run for the hills. The locals did (at about 5:30am), grabbing their neighbours and dogs.

      In the end the govt official was right - there was no tsunami. Be nice if they told someone [stuff.co.nz].

      Anyway, point is that calling someone *did* work. People overseas called NZ and the word spread *fast*. I don't know whether it was fast enough to be useful, but there's something in there thats useful. Dont call people here - broadcast the news on the internet and news. *Someone* listening will know people in the affected area and the mass phone calls will start.

      • Re:Good news! (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Japan has a massive early warning system for this. It takes less than a minute from the tremor until they have evactuation notices in the areas possibly effected.
      • Re:Good news! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

        Anyway, point is that calling someone *did* work. People overseas called NZ and the word spread *fast*. I don't know whether it was fast enough to be useful, but there's something in there thats useful. Dont call people here - broadcast the news on the internet and news. *Someone* listening will know people in the affected area and the mass phone calls will start.

        That's very nice - but about as relevant as rice sales in Antartica.

        The nations surrounding the Indian Ocean by and large *aren't* nati

    • Who should they have called? CNN, Star TV News, Reuters, AP, anything owned by Rupert Murdoch; after that you can think about calling governments. Your assessment of the usefulness of calling embassies is unfortunately spot on, but even with this system, relying on the government sector without first calling the useful satellite news services is a mistake.

      Will this reach everybody? No - as other people have commented, there are lots of areas without much infrastructure, and small non-touristy islands a

  • by hopethisnickisnottak ( 882127 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:15PM (#15687958) Homepage Journal
    The biggest problem with my country, India, is that an early warning system won't make much of a difference because there is no way to inform most of the thousands of villages and settlements on the coastlines. In face of this, even a warning hours in advance won't make a significant difference.

    At the same time, regardless of these problems, an early warning system like this will save *some* lives, and any life saved is precious!
    • by richdun ( 672214 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:38PM (#15688006)

      The biggest problem with my country, India, is that an early warning system won't make much of a difference because there is no way to inform most of the thousands of villages and settlements on the coastlines.

      That pretty goes for every country in the 2004 tsunami zone. As others have said, a bit more regional and local cooperation is what is really needed - our (U.S.) best seismologists and such knowing that a tsunami is coming is nice, but for those that don't have CNN/BBC/whatever piped into their homes, the news will be late. Your comment is true, but a little too narrow-focused - and typical of the kinds of challenges faced in these situations.

      • actually, the hawaii seismographic centre did pick up early signals that they interpreted to become a tsunami, and they tried to reach indonesian and Sri Lankan authorities, but they claimed neither of them could be reached, its almost as if all that money should have been put to sirens, phone lines and comms systems rather than seismographic equipment.
    • How about the not so novel idea of mounting warning sirens around the most likely areas. No need to get a 10 page article from The Times about an oncoming wave. Just a loud "beeeep" that people know means "don't stop to ask questions, just get to high ground or you won't be around for much longer".
      • The problem isn't one of technology so much as it is of scale. The coastline of India is huge. And it is dotted by small settlements of fishing communities. Mobile tech could be used, as could radios. The problem is, most of these settlements aren't covered by the GSM/CDMA networks. And there's no guarantee that the people in any given settlements will have radios. Furthermore, there is no streamlined pathway within the Indian government for a quick reaction. Even if this monitoring system detects a tsunami
    • I'm sorry, but that was completely misinformed and totally unnecessary. After Bangladesh, the Coramandal Coast (the south-eastern coastlines at Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) face the second greatest number of cyclones in the world, and you should know this, we have a fair cyclone warning system, with radios, satellite phones and so on. Not perfect, but works. Nothing to prevent the Tsunami Warning system from using the same communications infrastructure.

      I should know; my grandfather survived a cy

  • UN (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kisak ( 524062 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:34PM (#15687994) Homepage Journal
    Great work by UNESCO [unesco.org]. Another example why the UN has become such a vital organisation after WWII.
    • Re:UN (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FooGoo ( 98336 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @07:08PM (#15688228)
      I am all for the UN doing this type of work as protecting human rights, solving political problems, or preventing genocide is not their forte.
      • Re:UN (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JahToasted ( 517101 ) <toastafari@COLAyahoo.com minus caffeine> on Sunday July 09, 2006 @09:24PM (#15688523) Homepage
        Solving political problems or preventing genocide doesn't seem to be anyone's forte. The UN attempts to do these things anyway with varying degrees of success. You don't hear about the times they succeed because negotiating treaties and keeping things peaceful don't get as much attention as several million people being massacred (and even that doesn't get much attention anymore). Are you saying they shouldn't attempt anything that has a significant chance of failure?
    • Re:UN (Score:2, Funny)

      by ClamIAm ( 926466 )
      I don't think you understand. By getting rid of the UN, The Market(tm) would automagically have taken care of this!
    • Re:UN (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I am all in favor of U.N. Peacekeepers being sent to the beaches to deal with an expected tsunami. Ahead of them should be U.N. diplomats to negotiate with the tsunami.
  • by 99luftballon ( 838486 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @05:52PM (#15688048)
    This is tried and proven technology, put down for a highish initial investment and minimal maintenance requirements. All credit to UNESCO for getting it up and running so quickly.

    The logical next step is to link the new Tsunami grids around the world and crunch some data. There could be very interesting research into deep ocean wave effects.
  • This is basically USELESS. Huge Tsunami's can be 50 feet ABOVE sea level. What exacyly does early warning do?
    Say "Kiss your ass goodbye"?. How does this help? In waht way does this mitigate the destruction or human suffering?

    Are you posting "feel good" news, or news that has a REAL effect on people?
    • What do you care? Your freakin' underwater lab blows up at the end of each episode anyway.
    • Huge Tsunami's can be 50 feet ABOVE sea level. What exacyly does early warning do?

      Tell people to go to a hill 51 feet above sea level? Some people were saved because they knew the warning signs, either through tribal legend or research.
    • People can grab a boat and get a bit offshore. Most fishing ships on the sea when the tsunami in 2004 hit, didn't even notice it.

      And there are lots of other ways to prepare and to save lots of lives, even with but an hour notice.
    • This is basically USELESS. Huge Tsunami's can be 50 feet ABOVE sea level. What exacyly does early warning do? Say "Kiss your ass goodbye"?. How does this help? In waht way does this mitigate the destruction or human suffering?

      Well, it lets you know that now would be a good time to climb 60 feet above sea level. Say, a hill, a large house, a tall tree...

      Failing that, it tells you that now would be a good time to run as far inland as you can. A tsunami loses energy from friction once it makes landfall,

  • Cheaper system... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Airconditioning ( 639167 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @07:58PM (#15688332) Journal
    Put tracking devices in various animals in the area. Dogs, goats, sloths... whatever. If they all inexplicably go berzerk and start heading for the hills, follow them.

    Seriously, it was well reported that the local wildlife at the locations where the Tsunami hit were safe in the hills away from the disaster. What were they sensing?
    • The earth quake itself via seismic waves/sounds, which we can detect via cheap instruments directly. Changes in air pressure caused by a tsunami on its way, which we can detect directly via cheap instruments. And of course observing the birds flying away in panic (who in turn probably detected the sound from the earthquake, or I guess the pressure variance, or even just saw something) and trusting them.

      The problem with us using that as our warning system is that villages will evacuate every time explosives
    • This has been debunked time and time over, especially with the late tsunami where uncountable number of land (ad sea) animals cadaver were found, all of which were caught unaware waayy away from he hlls. Too bad the *well reporting* did not follow very well on that one, uh ?
  • by meckardt ( 113120 ) on Sunday July 09, 2006 @08:17PM (#15688361) Homepage

    Tsunami stations are all well and good, but will they continue to operate after the mega ice storms freeze the entire ocean solid the Day After Tomorrow [foxhome.com]?

    Perhaps the money would better be spent installing giant space heaters, especially along the northern border states.

  • Wast the boxing day tsunami the deadliest day in human history? Has there ever been a day in which more people died? which day was that? Any idea?
  • Survivors of tsunami victims will find a way to claim that the system did not perform adequately and hire an attorney to discover who they can blame for an unspecified amount monetary damages.
    • Don't forget false alarms too. If a tsunami warning is sounded and no significant tsunami materializes there will be all kinds of lawsuits about lost business, or damages and injuries during the retreat, etc.

      Oh, wait, this is in the Indian Ocean region, not the USA...

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