According to the Independent, Sri Lanka is the best prepared to communicate tsunami warnings to at-risk populations on the coast. We wish to believe this. But unlike the highly-trained journalist from the Independent, we have taken the trouble to ask a few questions:
1. Does Sri Lanka have a single national multi-hazard warning center?
2. Do the existing patchwork of centers (in the case of tsunamis, both the Geological Survey and the Met Department have responsibility) have a congestion proof communication system to convey the warning to the police stations?
NO. But there is a pilot project that involves 4 SMS based early warning devices placed in police stations.
3. Do the police stations have plans to disseminate the information to the affected communities?
4. Is there a mechanism for police stations to verify the information that they receive?
5. Has Sri Lanka conducted a nationwide tsunami drill?
If Sri Lanka is indeed the best prepared, we in the Indian Ocean are in pretty bad shape. But UK journalism is in as bad a shape.
Even now, says Unesco, only five of the projected 16 buoys, and only 27 of the planned 50 gauges, have been installed. Governments around the ocean have not yet agreed fully to share information on an approaching tsunami, and few have adequate ways of getting warnings out to the people most at risk.
The best-prepared country is Sri Lanka, one of those worst hit two years ago, which has a system of transmitting warnings through its police stations. And Thailand – which was criticised after the tsunami for failing to pass on warnings, allegedly because it feared damaging its tourist industry – has set up a national disaster-warning centre, built watch towers along its coast, and drawn up a community-based evacuation plan.