Along with collecting emergency supplies for tsunami survivors, the international community has to marshal expertise to prevent another tragedy. Anger and blame will rage across...
Along with collecting emergency supplies for tsunami survivors, the international community has to marshal expertise to prevent another tragedy.
Anger and blame will rage across southern Asia just as Sunday’s waves roared ashore to claim at least 22,000 lives and devastate coastal communities from Somalia to Thailand.
Why couldn’t local authorities get a warning out to millions of people living a scant few feet above sea level?
One short answer is the absence of a regional early-warning system for the Indian Ocean. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, northwest of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggered a rare event in the Indian Ocean.
In the absence of an obvious threat, planning is nil, even when poverty and political strife do not complicate things. In contrast, the Pacific Ocean has had a monitoring system in place for more than half a century because of bitter experience.
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The elements of a monitoring system are not likely to overwhelm most countries. The equipment includes seismometers to record ground movement, tide gauges to detect changes in sea level, and deep-ocean buoys to help forecast tsunamis.
Dr. Eddie Bernard, director of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, says a relative few buoys could do the job.
Japan and Australia quickly announced they will help their neighbors. Dr. Charles McCreery of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu says it’s possible to link into the existing system.
The key would be international agreements to complete the network for sharing information.
Here is where the challenge soars and goes to national priorities. Will this week’s devastating but rare tragedy inspire homegrown emergency-management plans and a commitment to put them in place?
One cost-effective tool that targets money is risk assessment. Seattle is home to NOAA’s Tsunami Inundation Mapping Efforts, which is working on detailed maps of vulnerable West Coast communities.
Such exacting work takes a substantial commitment of energy and resources by the countries hit by Sunday’s tsunamis. The complications are as much about political will and stability as technology.
Nations reeling from a natural disaster with millions of lives at stake are poor candidates for hectoring lectures. But this brutal lesson cannot be ignored.