A regional training workshop on tsunami warning and emergency response SOPs for East African and Western Indian Ocean countries was held at the Blue Pearl Hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 15-19 November. The workshop was attended by 22 participants from 8 countries: Comoros, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania and Yemen. The trainers were: Tony Elliott and Masahiro Yamamoto from UNESCO IOC, Dr Laura Kong (ITIC) and Amir Mohyuddin (NDMA, Pakistan).
The participants comprised representatives from regional National Tsunami Warning Centres (NTWC) and National Disaster Management Organisations (NDMO), and the Tanzania Red Cross National Society. The training content focused on: earthquake and tsunami science for tsunami warning; tsunami hazards in the Indian Ocean; fundamental Tsunami Warning Centre SOPs for a timely warning; tsunami emergency response and preparedness; information flow SOPs – media and public information; the development of SOPS, including data analysis, processes, flowcharts and checklists, timelines; and tsunami warning decision support tools.
The key outcomes of the workshop were the provision of templates and guidelines to be used to create SOPs at the national level and a draft set of SOPs created at the workshop. Further important outcomes were the fostering of closer coordination between the NTWCs and NDMOs of the region.
A tabletop exercise tested the group’s understanding of SOPs for a distant tsunami scenario. The exercise demonstrated the groups’ understanding of the role of SOPs in tsunami warning and emergency response. At the same time, gaps and weaknesses were identified, which the participants will address at the national level.
This workshop was organized in response to a common need identified in country capacity assessment missions conducted in Indian Ocean member states following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Funding for the workshop was from IOC Regular Programme funds and the Indian Ocean Consortium administered by UNISDR. The workshop has identified a demand for conducting a programme of country-specific workshops to develop critical capacity at the national level. A need for a regular biennial regional workshop was also identified.
The tragic losses caused by the 25 October earthquake and tsunami off Sumatra show that efforts must be intensified to further improve the preparedness of coastal populations in the world’s most vulnerable regions, said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
The Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System functioned effectively during the magnitude 7.7 earthquake and tsunami. However, warning messages could not be issued quickly enough to protect populations within minutes of the epicenter, near the Indonesian Mentawai Islands.
“We must intensify our efforts to make sure communities on shorelines close to tsunami source zones know what to do when a strong earthquake is felt,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Immediate self-evacuation is the key to survival for near-field tsunamis. People must know to head for high ground as quickly as possible.”
Wendy Watson-Wright, UNESCO Assistant Director-General and Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), confirmed that the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System issued timely tsunami alert messages on this event. The national system for Indonesia, the Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System (InaTEWS) issued the first warning to national authorities within five minutes of the sub-sea earthquake, which allowed many communities to take the necessary precautions.
However, as the centre of the earthquake and tsunami was located just a few kilometers off the Indonesian islands of Mentawai, even the very swift warning from Indonesian authorities could not reach the fishing villages on Pagai or Sipora before the tsunami hit the shore.
Since 2004, a vast amount of work has been done to establish an effective warning system for the Indian Ocean. We have state-of-the-art equipment in the water that allows us to know very quickly if a tsunami has been generated, and a range of alert mechanisms have been put into place in coastal areas make sure official warnings reach local populations. But we still have a great deal of awareness raising and public information work ahead to make sure we go the last mile and reach the most vulnerable communities,” said Watson-Wright.
UNESCO-IOC established the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami off the shores of Indonesia that took the lives of over 200,000 people. Warnings for the system are presently issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre based in Hawaii and the Japanese North-West Pacific Tsunami Advisory Centre based in Tokyo.