Island News

Tsunami centre a must for region

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. The inability at night of both the Director of Meteorology and the Director of MRD to make quick decisions is an issue also. Junior
09 Apr 2011 12:00

image Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. The inability at night of both the Director of Meteorology and the Director of MRD to make quick decisions is an issue also. Junior meteorologists and technical support staff shift workers on duty at the Fiji Meteorological Service, receiving the warnings from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), are required to call and wake up the Director of Meteorology. The Mineral Resources Division staff are unavailable on duty at nights as they do not do shift work like the weather office staff. The Director of Meteorology would then drive to the FMS from his home, and then communicate with the contact person of the Mineral Resources Division and also the National Disaster Management Office and other agencies, at their homes, after personally studying the initial advice from the PTWC.
Formal announcements in the form of warnings will be issued by him or the MRD after this, via the local radio, again taking up further time. Not many people would be awake and any response by the public late at nights, will further delay any likely quick response. Thus it is no secret that for a massive “onslaught of a cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami” in the vicinity of Fiji waters, would quite literally find the general public caught in their underwear at night, with a massive toll on lives, property and most people unable to evacuate at all from a direct impact, in the odd hours of night.
In contrast the Japan Meteorological Agency provides direct to the public, within two minutes of earthquake, seismic intensity information and within three minutes, earthquake information, like the location and magnitude and tsunami warning, with tsunami information within three minutes and thirty seconds, which includes estimated tsunami heights and arrival times. Within five minutes the original earthquake and seismic intensity information is updated including reports of observed tsunami heights and arrival times.
This situation today, in our part of the world, for almost all the Forum countries has not changed much either and would not be much different for day time impacts, for very close systems. These are the harsh realities that have to be talked about, heard by people making decisions, with solid robust discussions, meetings, and action taken to improve our system, to help mitigate against layers of bureaucracy, and open up direct communications, as far as possible, to avoid any loss of valuable warning times, during crisis situation of major proportions.
The death, destruction and carnage would be in the thousands and like in Samoa, the injuries, loss of limbs from roofing irons, metals, concrete and other debris, and the general sweeping away of persons deep into the oceans and the complete separation of bodies and living families in the mayhem, would make the recovery and forensic team efforts to identify, unite dead bodies of families, almost impossible in many cases with the need for mass burials in some cases.
The breakdown and mayhem would mean that people alive and waiting to be rescued, or partially buried or fully embedded in soil and debris but in temporary air pockets, would die in numbers due to a lack of any “Rapid Action Force” (RAF team). Huge waves in shore lines will proceed inland, as far as a kilometer or more, and if there were steep obstructions, like hills and mountains, near the shore lines; the crest of the waves normally would hit the area with huge momentum with full force magnified many times over and, then recede after riding over the obstructions walls to another 10-20 metres higher, meaning that the wave impact could be as high as 30 metres from the sea level in these cases, from a 10 meter wave.
Entire teams from overseas, like Australia and New Zealand, quite similar to the Samoan experience, with Police sniffer dogs and other forensic and search and recovery experts with the full support of helicopters and other Ariel Support Teams dropping water and food rations would be required in the feeding, search and recovery, and movement of people alive and displaced, to safer locations. These would only happen if the local national government seeks help after doing a survey of the area and declaring a state of emergency; the sheer logistics of manning and directing any urgent help to save further lives will take time for international teams and thus help may come only after 48-72 hours. Most coastal roads, in the impact zones, would be totally denuded and washed away with a changed coast line. Huge 3-5 ton stone boulders used as stone walls or sea walls would be tossed about like peanuts and would be found dispersed and buried in sand inland, with other mangled debris many meters away, becoming part of the natural landscape.
All these are not a “doom and gloom” scenario but a reality that one may have to come to terms with, like the experience in Papua New Guinea, Samoa and more recently in Japan showed, all of us.
We must be vigilant at all times and be fully prepared and build the capacity to deal with any situation for timely help to our nation, our society and our community.
Should the scenario never eventuate for us, so much the better, but only if we are fully prepared and alert will we be able to make a difference to our society in the pursuit of their safety of their lives and property.
The “Fiji Tsunami Warning System and Response Arrangements” documents are very silent and do not deal in any great depth and detail on aspects of this type of a catastrophe for Fiji. The manual concentrates more on distant tsunamis, with great lead time scenario for our society. It says: “that people should not have to lose their lives because of the distance tsunamis when there is ample time to take action. It is in this regard that we will concentrate our efforts
towards developing a comprehensive communications plan for tsunami”.
Opposed to the above regarding distant tsunamis, it should be also noted that presently we do not have our own regional tsunami warning centre in the South Pacific region despite the huge threats and many earthquakes recently near Vanuatu, deaths in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa.
This is a major omission and oversight by the regional national governments, who during their Pacific Forum discussions regularly over many years, seem to have overlooked this important issue.
Of note are the vast amounts of funds being provided from outside agencies and donor governments in the speculative science of “Climate Change” and issues like “Mitigation and Adaptation” for our region. However very little of that ever goes into pure research or warning systems and response arrangements for more urgent and tangible issues like Tsunamis, Tropical cyclones, flooding and the like, which would aid the region immensely.
Some work is now being done under the HYCOS and other projects, for early warning flood forecasting for the Navua, Nadi and Ba river basins and is commendable.
Meteorological science and in general pure weather and climate science is being almost totally neglected, in the name of aid for the developing states in the Pacific region.
Hardly any funds are available for proper state of the art in-situ observing and other monitoring equipment. Some of these are the reason why today, in 2011 and many decades later, we in the region are still wrestling with issues which should have been looked at many decades ago, by outside organisations, trying to justify their existence and their Aid budget, in this part of the world.
Whatever the case, it should also be recognised today, that the experiences of Japan, one of the most developed economies of the world and a powerhouse in technology, innovation and research and over 180 seismographs and 600 seismic intensity meters at the Japan Meteorological Agency including 3200 other seismic intensity meters run by local governments and the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, was unable to avoid the natural disaster. It should be understood by all that no amount of money, preparation or other resources will stop these events.
Also that given the nature of the science of geophysics, scientific monitoring of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activities is only possible, but no amount of efforts, will be able to forecast the location and intensity in advance.
All we humans can do is to take action to mitigate the impacts, to ensure that loss of life, property, displacement and relocation is minimal, and that all efforts are timely and in a coordinated manner to ensure minimum impacts.
I am suggesting now that a regional body called the Forum Region Tsunami Warning Centre (FRTWC) encompassing all national government bodies of the Forum countries, and based at the Forum Headquarters in Suva, Fiji or at the Fiji Meteorological Service complementing the work of the Regional Specialised Meteorological Center (RSMC), be formed immediately, to look at all issues relating to communications, warnings, disaster preparedness and mitigation, adaptation and advise on relocation and the drawing up of geographical maps delineating the safety zone datum levels for every single nation, and for every single island in each developing nation of the Forum members.
This will include river delta and inlets to waterways, where waves will travel many kilometers inland from the sea, during the tsunami wave action. This collaborative work amongst each of the nation’s staff should be funded by the developed nations who are presently very active in supporting “Climate Change” type of adaptation and mitigation work in the region.
n To be continued NEXT WEEK

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