How the tsunami may no longer be the terrible disaster it once was
If you can’t beat it, lower its risks: how the tsunami may no longer be the terrible disaster it once was
As the World Tsunami Awareness Day rolled around on November 5, we couldn’t help but think about 15 years ago when a tsunami hit the south of Thailand. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake of a 9.3-Richter magnitude occurred off the coast of Sumatra Island, causing a colossal wave that hit the Thai coast in the Andaman sea, among other places, and took more than 5,365 lives. Following this world record natural catastrophe, people around the world came to reflect on how they can be prepared for another tsunami, how they can lower its impact should that day arrive.
Various tsunami warning systems and methods have been developed over the years – from the seismograph, the incorporation of the Global Positioning System (GPS), the ocean assessment and tsunami reporting gauge, to the warning system by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) which monitors the ocean level for the formation of waves. If the waves are found to have high destructive effects, a warning will be issued to countries to prepare them for a coming hazard.
Japan is known for its most advanced tsunami warning systems in the world. There, a system called DART (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami) is used to detect the generation or origin of a tsunami. The country also conducts tsunami simulations far off the coast for preparedness as the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) is responsible for observing and reporting earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and more. The agency operates 627 earthquake monitors around the country. Besides the headquarters in Tokyo, there are five regional JMA offices in Sapporo, Sendai, Osaka, Fukuoka and Naha. Additionally, Japan is committed to strengthening public preparedness – even elementary school students participate in emergency drills and learned about the disastrous nature of the tsunami. Hitoshi Kozaki, Head of International Organization Department, Embassy of Japan in Thailand, noted:
“The most important aspect of disaster risk reduction is to foster an understanding of the dangers of tsunamis and the proper responses to them among as many people as possible, particularly children, and encourage them to work together to reduce tsunami risks.”
As for Thailand, which has faced severe impacts of the tsunami before, does not leave the issue of preparedness addressed. The tsunami warning systems include the bottom pressure recorder and surface buoys in two locations, and a computer-simulated envision of tsunami formation risks based on collected data. In case of a real emergency, a warning would be issued to coastal stations so that locals and those in the area can be alerted and evacuate in time.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is one of the organizations actively working to reduce the risks of severe destruction. With the support of the Japanese government, the programme has introduced a project in 18 Asia-Pacific countries to develop tsunami evacuation procedures in more than 90 schools. There are five pilot schools in Thailand, all situated in Phang Nga Province which took the biggest impact of the 2004 tsunami in the country.
Read more about Japan’s tsunami warning systems at Centre for Public Impact
Most schools did not have preparedness plans or a safe evacuation route, so UNDP began by working with teachers and school personnel, in collaboration with the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Thai Red Cross, Phang Nga’s Office of the Basic Education, and the Ministry of Education, to analyze the risks of each school and improve their preparedness plans and safe evacuation measures. Teachers are trained to be able to help students and train them on appropriate emergency actions. Equally important is leaving behind no students with disabilities – leaving no one behind – who would require special care during evacuation. Moreover, students are taught CPR skills and first aid basics and frequently participate in safe evacuation drills.