New system will warn Seychelles of Tsunamis

It traveled across the ocean faster than a jet plane, killing more than two hundred thousand and displacing millions of people, destroying infrastructure and annihilating vital ecosystems. Not even the Seychelles, located so far away from the source, was spared.

A little over a year and a half after the terrible tsunami hit Indian Ocean countries, the region has an early warning system which is "now up and running as scheduled" and is expected to deliver better results with improvements planned, it was announced last week.

The state-of-the-art system, coordinated by the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), consists of a seismic network, a set of buoys deployed throughout the Indian Ocean, and three Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) sensors that measure the power and propagation of waves. The system can receive and distribute tsunami advisories 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Twenty-six national tsunami information centres, capable of receiving and distributing tsunami advisories round the clock, have been set up in Indian Ocean countries.  All information is transmitted in real time to the existing tsunami warning centres in Japan and Hawaii. If a potentially tsunami-generating quake occurs in the Indian Ocean, these two centres will issue a warning to the national information centres.

Seychelles is part of this warning system and the tsunami information centre is located at the national meteorological services. Global telecommunication system was   already in use here and now the met. Service is plugged into the Hawaiian and Japanese centres to receive information directly. Vital information can be received within 15 minutes and the Seychelles authorities can make decisions to seek more information from international organizations or to provide national responses right away.

By the end of July, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said, the warning system will have improved and faster detection of potential tsunami generating earthquakes, increased precision in the location of the centres of earthquakes and confirmation of the presence of a tsunami wave in the ocean after a strong earthquake. It is hoped at Seychelles can receive information within 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, new Global Positioning System (GPS) software developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory can now determine within minutes whether an earthquake is large enough to generate an ocean wide tsunami, according to a university team of scientists exploring new ways of using GPS data.

However, UNESCO says that any system is ineffective without improved emergency response procedures in the countries. Since tsunamis travel at up to 1000 km/h in open water, the time to respond with a coordinated evacuation is very limited.  In a recent test of the Pacific tsunami warning system, Thailand found that an attempt to alert people by sending text-messages to their mobile phones crashed the telephone system.

Efficient warning systems also need sufficient and well-signposted escape routes and a high level of preparedness among people. When an alert is issued some people have been known to move to the beach to watch the event. Building national preparedness is the most difficult part of establishing early warning systems according to UNESCO. An intergovernmental group will discuss this and other remaining problems for the Indian Ocean system at a meeting in Bali in a few weeks.

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