Sunday, July 30, 2006
  Sunday's Tsunami Sundries.

Envirtech - Technologies For A Wonderful World - have developed a Tsunami Warning System which measures oceanic pressure.

The main scenario in case of detection of an anomaly in the pressure signal is the following:
1. The UM-DACS in its standard operating mode IDLE MODE detects an unexpected variation in the pressure signal;
2. A notification message is sent to the OC and the UM-MODULE changes in the new status ALARM MODE;
3. In ALARM MODE the UM sends periodically a message to the OC: on request the user in the OC can transfer all pressure data acquired in ALARM MODE.
4. In case of detection of a tsunami events (frequency component in the range 0.01..0.0005Hz) an TSUNAMI DETECTION message is sent to the OC.
5. The user in the OC can verify the pressure data acquired during the ALARM MODE to validate the alarm condition and to verify its amplitude.
6. After the decrease of the tsunami wave components under some minimal threshold (parameter remotely configurable by the OC user) and after a period of some hours (parameter remotely configurable by the OC user), the UM changes from ALARM MODE to IDLE MODE.

So, that's all right then.

The Last Mile

The new Indian Ocean early warning system - proposed after the December 2004 tsunami which claimed 200,000 lives - was said by the UN to be "up and running" last month. So how come a warning did not reach Java's affected communities in time on July 17th?

It's all very well installing technologically wonderful systems but they won't work if the people aren't involved.

Indonesian earthquake official Fauzi told the BBC News website that although progress had been made, there were still serious shortcomings in Indonesia's monitoring systems and communications network.

It currently takes scientists up to 60 minutes to receive and analyse the data from 30 seismological stations and send out a warning. With only a 20-minute interval between the magnitude 7.7 undersea earthquake and the arrival of the waves on shore, there was just no time to warn people, Fauzi said.

Fauzi also believes communications are an issue. "We don't have the systems yet so what we do is call by telephone. But sometimes the lines are busy and it's very difficult to get through.

"We need to set up an exclusive communication system because otherwise it's going to be the same problem. If we use public communication systems, it's not going to work very well."

In the meantime, officials were making use of SMS messages to contact communities at risk, he said. Networks of sirens are also being set up this year in the Aceh, Padang and Bali regions to alert people who may be too poor to own TVs, radios or mobile phones. Another is to be built in Java next year.

The majority of those at risk in coastal communities are, as seemingly always in every 'natural' disaster, the poor. In other words, those who cannot afford even the batteries to operate a radio, let alone to own a phone.

One solution may be to distribute solar powered or clockwork radios - as invented by Trevor Baylis - to village chiefs and other community leaders. If the radios were pre-tuned to a dedicated emergency wavelength, then there's a simple and, hopefully, cost effective solution.

However the alarm is raised, assuming the message gets through, there is the need to know where to go and in Indonesia there are encouraging developments with the proposal to build elevated safe zones near low-lying coastal resorts nationwide to speed up evacuations during tsunamis.

Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik said Thursday the sites would consist of elevated land areas about four to five meters at 500 metre intervals located about 500 meters from the shoreline.

"The construction of the facilities will be in one package with the installation of the tsunami warning system devices," Wacik said during a visit to Pangandaran, scene of the worst damage and most victims in this most recent tsunami.

Talk The Talk

Did you know that so far there have been three International Conferences on Early Warnings? President Clinton, as the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, attended the 3rd held in Bonn, Germany, in March this year, and you can read his presentation following his keynote address here.

The main emphasis, as ever, is getting the message through to and protecting the potential victims.

At Bonn, President Clinton remarked that "[we] have all learned a lot from the things that have happened."

He added, however, that "the question is whether we will put what we know into action. In the end, disaster reduction is about making the right development choices: where to locate a school, how to protect buildings better, how to build them better, how to pursue sustainable development. It's about investing in practical and effective people-centered early warning systems. And it's about
addressing the long-term challenges that will give us more natural disasters, particularly climate change ..."

Another Conference is due to open tomorrow in Bali. This is the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System. I don't know whether Bill will be there. As ever, the main issue is not the technology, which exists even though it is not yet in place.

The challenges are how to word and to communicate warnings.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago with more than 17,000 islands, needs at least 22 buoys with deep ocean sensors, 120 tide gauges with digital recordings, and 160 seismographs to secure the entire country from tsunamis, officials say.

"It is a test of grit for 10 minutes," said Shailesh Nayak, head of the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services. "If we have all the networking and broadband connectivity in place within the year we can issue a tsunami warning within 10 minutes after a quake," he said, adding, "if the data is clear."

Broadband connectivity? If we can't have it here in the capital city of Jakarta, how on earth (or hyperspace) do you think poor folk dependent on fishing for their meagre livelihoods are going to get the data??

Another quake, measuring 5.7 (moderate), occurred this morning at 8.30 local time, off the coast of Nias, scene of many quakes, in West Sumatra. I first knew about it when a notice was put on screen by Indovision, my satellite provider. Metro TV also carried a ticker tape message. Both messages said that there was no danger of a tsunami.

Few, if any, folk in West Sumatra would have been watching those TV channels.


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