Here is what happened when someone in a probably tsunami impact zone received a warning from the authorities in British Columbia, Canada, a few days back: Meg Devlin, who lives near Victoria’s Gorge waterfront, said she was awakened by a message at 3:02 but didn’t recognize the phone number for Victoria’s Vic-Alert emergency notification service, so she ignored it. “I unplugged my phone and rolled over and went back to sleep,” Devlin told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. There is no way for anyone to recognize the “official” nature of a number sending a text in the middle of the night. The CBC News story goes on to talk a significant number of people in the probable impact zone who received the warning not through official channels, but through friends and people knocking on doors. Tanya Patterson, the City of Victoria’s emergency program coordinator, said the Vic-Alert system is one area for improvement in the city’s emergency response.
The warning towers erected after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami are said to be dysfunctional, according to Reuters: Thailand’s warning system includes warning towers, a network of detection buoys in the sea and public announcement systems. “Around 70 to 80 percent, or around 2,000 pieces, need to be taken care of. We set up this system since 2006 so it needs to be maintained,” Kobchai Boonyaorana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, told Reuters, referring to various equipment. “Batteries need to be changed,” he added, “I’ve ordered that this needs to be done urgently particularly in the southern region which is a tourist region. There might be some places where the equipment is damaged but not many places.
I’ve been writing about Indonesia’s tsunami buoys for a while. This was when I was trying to dissuade people in Sri Lanka of the need for our own tsunami detection system. We are not located in an earthquake zone and thus only vulnerable to teletsunamis that come from the Sunda Trench. Indonesia and Thailand need to sensors because of their proximity to the Trench. But little did I know that the Indonesian system suffered from the project syndrome: money for installation but nothing for maintenance.
National Safety Day was somewhat overshadowed by floods and an election. Yet, LIRNEasia and its partner Sarvodaya pulled together a good exhibit. The judges have selected our exhibit as one of the top three. As a reward we have been offered an educational trip to Bangkok. Someone from Sarvodaya will make the trip.
In the overview piece that keeps popping up in various media (link below), I highlighted the importance of knowledge. Not only its creation, but its incorporation into everyday practice. Not only of government and private sector, but also of citizens. Knowledge, he stressed, has to be incorporated into everyday practice not only by the government and private sector, but all citizens. “Let’s hope that the 10th anniversary of our greatest natural disaster will energise the efforts to build resilient societies in Asia Pacific.
LIRNEasia was three months old when the tsunami struck, killing over 200,000 people in countries around the Bay of Bengal where we intended to focus our efforts as a nascent think tank. But it hit Sri Lanka, where we are based, very hard. On a per-capita basis, Sri Lanka suffered the greatest loss of lives, close to one in 600 people perishing over the morning hours of the 26th. Our small organization was untouched, thankfully. My daughter, fresh from the US, wanted a holiday with a fireplace.
In 2005 January I asked my friend, Pete Anderson, to take a risk and come to Sri Lanka to participate in the expert forum we had convened on the 26th of January to develop policy recommendations for effective early warning. At that moment I did not have a budget line to pay out of, but I said I’ll find the money to reimburse him, and I did. That first visit is described in AQ, the Simon Fraser University alumni magazine, along with some photos we took on the trip down the coast with Asantha Sirimanne, one of the journalists who first reported the tragedy: Within days of the 2004 catastrophic tsunami that struck South Asia, killing more than 250,000 people, Anderson travelled to Sri Lanka and paced the broken shorelines in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. There he formed ideas on how to help local communities devise and implement their own emergency communications strategies, eventually collaborating with local organizations to develop the Last Mile Hazard Information Dissemination Project, designed to improve the capabilities of the country when disaster strikes. The pilot project generated a capacity-building experience that is leading to community communications improvements.
This was published in Ceylon Today but they appear to have some kind of lag built into their online publication. So we are sharing the reflective column by Nalaka Gunawardene from his website. Whatever the hazard, early warnings would work well when adequate technological capability combines with proper decision-making and dissemination systems, and prepared communities. In the case of tsunamis, an effective warning and mitigation system means people living in vulnerable coastal areas know how to respond when a potentially destructive tsunami may be approaching. Tsunami warning systems are made up of three components.
A lecture on disaster risk reduction was organized on Thursday 19th June at the Sri Lanka Foundation to consolidate knowledge on the subject in Sri Lanka and share it with other countries, private sector organizations and the general public. The keynote speaker at the event was Dr Stuart Weinstein, Deputy Director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre USA who spoke of the sparse seismic networks and the inadequacies in the tsunami warning system a decade ago. He went on to illustrate the advancements in tsunami warning with the number of warning systems increasing from one to four. Furthermore, the speed at which tsunamis can be detected has improved significantly. (Presentation “Advances in Tsunami Warning Systems Since the Great Sumatra Earthquake of 2004“) Mr.
From today’s Financial Times: When asked to explain the importance of CAP, I find it helpful to contrast today’s media and disaster-management environments with those that existed at the time of the 1978 east coast cyclone where around 250,000 people were displaced (about the same as by the 2004 tsunami), but only around 900 died (as against over 30,000 in 2004). Then, there was only one electronic media organisation, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. It had six channels, but the news and information on all six channels originated from one news room (I worked there in 1978). We easily coordinated with the Department of Meteorology, the sole entity responsible for cyclone warnings. On the ground there were far fewer electronic media devices than now, but people like the late GA Mr Anthonymuttu were able to effectively move people out of harm’s way.
This is disaster risk reduction week in Sri Lanka. Nothing official, but we decided some time back that tsunami commemoration is better done in the middle of the year, than in the last week of December when everything, including our brains, shuts down. I learned this from my children’s schools where they celebrate half-birthdays for kids whose birthdays are inconveniently situated. We have been running the disaster risk-reduction lecture and discussion event since 2010. This year, thanks to the hard work and initiative of Nuwan Waidyanatha, we have a whole week of activities.
As we prepare for the IOTX events that start on the 16th of June in Negombo, I was reminded of the first expert consultation we conducted, exactly one month after the tsunami. That was a productive meeting, catalyzing, among other things, the USD 71 million plus dam safety project that has made large swaths of our country safe from inland tsunamis. Thank you to all who worked with us along the way.
Since we run the DRR lecture on a shoestring, there will be no paid media ads. We are grateful for publicity. If forewarned is forearmed and you are in the NGO sector specifically in DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) there’s a lecture on Disaster Risk Reduction Public Lecture: Regional Readiness. Disaster risk reduction is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and reduce the causal factors of disasters. Reducing exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment and improving preparedness and early warning for adverse events are all examples of disaster risk reduction.
The gist of the NYT report is that some residents of coastal Oregon are unhappy about the discontinuance of tsunami warning sirens. But in these matters what one has to look at is the science. Supporters of the county’s decision, including some coastal hazard experts, say that the sirens, comforting as they may sound in their monthly tests, are so vague in their wailing message — declaring only a tsunami in approach, with no indication of size or timing — that they may be, in a strange way, dangerous to public safety. The last time the sirens wailed, after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, for example, which triggered tsunami alerts around much of the Pacific Rim, emergency managers here expected the tsunami hitting this part of Oregon to be small, which it was. The only evacuations they ordered were for residents living within a half mile of the shoreline.
In 2007 Smith Dharmasaroja, the former disaster czar of Thailand, pointed to the dangers posed by mountains of mud deposited by the Ganges in the Bay of Bengal. What the research below raises is the danger of soft material combined with earthquakes. Are these not high priority research areas for our scientists? In a paper published today (24 August 2012) in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Professors Dan McKenzie and James Jackson of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences describe for the first time the added factor that may have made this tsunami so severe: a huge collapse of soft material on the sea bed resulted in a far greater movement of water than would have been caused by the earthquake alone. Full report.
A few days back, on April 11th 2012, a powerful earthquake occurred not too far from Aceh. Naturally, fears of a tsunami were uppermost in people’s minds. It’s been some time since we at LIRNEasia did funded disaster-related research, but within minutes, I was receiving requests for analysis on the lines of the post-mortems we’ve done after every major disaster in the region. So I started keeping notes and writing up a short piece. So far it has been carried in Lanka Business Online Sunday Island Science Daily.