Sri Lanka: Tsunami warning towers, a day late and a penny short

Posted on October 18, 2008  /  0 Comments

One and a half years after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the government of Sri Lanka stated that it had obtained funds for three warning towers and was on track to build 25 more by the second anniversary:

The Ministry has already received funds from UNESCAP to build three tsunami warning towers in the Eastern, Northern and Southern Provinces and hopes to build another 25 towers by December 26 [2006] to mark the second anniversary of the disaster, according to the Times.

We were skeptical and we were right. By September 12th, 2007, the day of the last false warning and erroneous government evacuation order, one tower was up. The one tower did not work.

So now, one and a half years after that false announcement about 25 towers (and almost four years after the tsunami), we have a Cabinet decision:

Cabinet approved a memorandum submitted by the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe and the Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils, Janaka Bandara Tennekoon, to accept the revised proposal to expand the Emergency Response Systems (ERS) currently in place by upgrading and establishing 14 fire and rescue stations, in addition to the 18 stations developed under Phase I of the project.

Accordingly, emergency treatment equipment and basic life support (BLS) ambulances will be provided for 12 hospitals and 50 multi-hazard warning towers with communication facilities will be provided, while 15 district emergency operation centres will be set up, replete with transport and communication facilities.

This phase will be implemented within the framework of the Road Map for a Safer Sri Lanka, and will cost 4.63 Euro, which will be financed by Rabobank International TCE Export Finance.

Now Rabobank International TCE Export Finance does not quite sound like a concessionary lender does it?

So then, let us ask about the value of warning towers. What is the range of a warning tower? Would 50 (or 51 including the one in Hikkaduwa) towers be enough for the vulnerable coasts of Sri Lanka? Does the government have an effective method of activating these 50 towers? Has the government completed the promised review of the alert/evacuation actions of September 12, 2007? Has it got a good answer as to why it could not get the Hikkaduwa tower to work on that day?

Or more fundamentally, has the government assessed the efficacy of warning towers versus cell broadcasting that can effectively reach the vulnerable populations on the coast?

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