Twenty three Indian Ocean rim countries* participated in an ocean-wide tsunami exercise on 12 October. The exercise was organized under the auspices of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which played an instrumental role in establishing the system. At the same time the new advisory service provided by the Regional Tsunami Service Providers (RTSPs) of Australia, India and Indonesia became operational.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova marked the transition of responsibility for the tsunami warning system with a video address to the new RTSPs. “This shows what can be done when States and societies join together to reach common goals,” said Irina Bokova. “This is a major step toward protecting the lives and livelihoods of all coastal communities in the Indian Ocean.”
Exercise IOWave11 re-enacted the 26 December 2004 earthquake event, with a 9.2 magnitude earthquake off the North West coast of Sumatra (Indonesia), followed by an ocean-wide tsunami. A total of 82 bulletins were issued to National Tsunami Warning Centres in participating countries. These bulletins were dispatched by the new Regional Tsunami Service Providers (RTSP) of Australia, India and Indonesia, as well as the Interim Advisory Service providers, Japan Meteorological agency (JMA) and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC)**. Preliminary results indicate that all the participating National Tsunami Warning Centres (NTWCs) were able to receive these bulletins in a timely manner.
Several countries also conducted national exercises involving key emergency response agencies, with many conducting tabletop or functional exercises to test their tsunami warning and emergency response Standard Operating Procedures. Three countries (India, Kenya and Malaysia) carried out evacuation drills at coastal communities. In India, drills were conducted at 17 coastal villages in 3 provinces. All countries considered the exercise to be successful although some minor problems have been identified. In some instances, for example, there were communication problems with receiving fax messages.
“Despite these occasional problems, Exercise IOWave11 has achieved its goal of evaluating the state of readiness of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in responding to a potentially destructive tsunami,” said Wendy Watson-Wright, Executive Secretary of UNESCO-IOC. “The exercise has provided an opportunity for Indian Ocean countries to test their operational lines of communications, review their tsunami warning and emergency response Standard Operating Procedures, and to promote emergency preparedness. A full evaluation of the exercise will now be conducted and a report will be published by the end of November 2011.”
*Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, France (La Réunion), India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor Leste, Yemen
** The Indian Ocean nations decided to establish an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS) in the wake of the 2004 catastrophe. They requested that UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission establish an Intergovernmental Coordination Group to provide a governance mechanism for the new system. Since 2005, bulletins have been issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. They will continue to provide this service until the end of 2012, at which time an evaluation of the new regional advisory service will be carried out.
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