Tsunami warning useless without plans: UN body

Sydney, Aug 3 | Updated: Aug 4 2005, 05:30am hrs
A sophisticated network of ocean sensors at the heart of an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system will be useless without matching emergency and evacuation plans, the head of a UN oceanographic body said on Wednesday.

Oceanographic experts have gathered in the west Australian city of Perth to discuss the technical and scientific requirements still needed for the system set up to avoid a repeat of the devastating December 26 tsunami.

Delegates from 27 Indian Ocean countries at the three-day meeting, the first of the UNESCO-backed Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System group, heard reports on the progress and needs of nations within the system.

Widening a high-tech array of wave, tide and pressure sensors being deployed in the Indian Ocean has been identified as the main priority.

But the head of the group coordinating the system said detection technology must be matched by emergency plans in each nation.

You can have the best and most sophisticated detection network and risk assessment, but if you dont have emergency and evacuation preparations, you are dead, Patricio Bernal said.

They are significant logistical issues, these are major undertakings that require a specialist, Bernal, head of the UN scientific bodys Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), told Reuters from Perth.

There were no warning systems or evacuation plans when the strongest earthquake in 40 years struck off the coast of Indonesias Sumatra on December 26, triggering massive waves that killed up to 232,000 people in 11 Indian Ocean nations and left more than a million homeless. As part of plans to prevent similar disasters, UNESCOs IOC in June set up a group to coordinate the warning system, which is comprised of a network of national systems linked through a regional base that has yet to be established. Bernal said good progress had been made but each nation had different capabilities and some had been lagging behind in their emergency plans.

It involves bringing information to people, what to do in the case of experiencing a strong earthquake in a country disposed to tsunamis, he said.

The group had already held discussions with the Federation of Asian Broadcasters and individual broadcasters on dissemination of emergency information, he said.

Bernal said the group hoped to have at least an interim system involving detection networks and communication links up and running by July 2006. Centres in 25 countries were already receiving information, he said.

UNESCO/IOC teams have been assessing each nations progress in preparing for future tsunamis under what Bernal described as a complex, three-tier system. The first tier was the deployment of an array of sensors based on tidal gauges which broadcast real-time information about changes in surface waves, tides and ocean pressure.