Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Partners in action
People centered early warning systems as a critical component of disaster reduction: Update on recent developments
Early warning is
certainly not a new issue. The need to develop people-centered early
warning systems, which ensure that warnings reach risk prone communities,
who know how to respond to these warnings, has been promoted by the ISDR
secretariat for several years, and most recently, it was identified as
one of the priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015).
The issue has also been discussed at three International Early Warning
Conferences, hosted by the Government of Germany in Potsdam (1998), and
in Bonn (2003 and 2006). The Third International Early Warning Conference,
which took place in Bonn from 27-29 March 2006 gathered more than 1,250
experts and government officials to showcase innovative early warning
projects, to promote their implementation, and to identify unused potential
in early warning, as well as facilitating multi-disciplinary scientific
debate on latest practices and research. The full conference report will
be available at:www.ewc3.org and
Photo: UN 2005/UTE Grabowsky
Strengthening the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System
If an effective tsunami early warning system had been in place in the Indian Ocean region, thousands of lives could have been saved. This recognition led to the speedy development of a regional warning system, largely thanks to the work of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and its participating governments, as well as other UN agencies, including WMO and the ISDR secretariat. The basic technical elements of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System (IOTEWS), which allow accurate tsunami warnings to be issued, are currently in place. Twenty-three real time sea level stations have been deployed to complete the upgrade of the Global Sea Level Observation System (GLOSS) network. This network is the fundamental basis for the monitoring and detection of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Countries have also designated focal points to receive and disseminate the warnings. The Global Telecommunication System (GTS) has also been strengthened, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has carried out assessment missions in several countries to upgrade national GTS components. Study tours and training on establishing national tsunami warning centers and developing public information products have also been organized for national authorities and experts.
The regional system was seriously tested on July 17, when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, 200kms off the coast of Western Java, created a tsunami that hit the shore approximately 40 minutes later. Although the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a local tsunami warning 17 minutes after the earthquake, there were difficulties in transmitting the warning to the coastal communities. As a result, the tsunami killed more than 500 people.
Addressing the “last mile” of the early warning system, and making sure that the systems are people centered, clearly remains one of the biggest challenges in developing early warning systems, not only in the Indian Ocean, but in other regions of the world as well.
Over the past 18 months, the region has benefited considerably from the active support of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President, Bill Clinton, towards accelerated development of a regional early warning system. President Clinton has also supported and endorsed a seven agency consortium initiative, coordinated by the ISDR secretariat, to assist countries in the region, and to develop and implement their national tsunami early warning and response plans. For more information on the activities of the UN Special Envoy, please visit: www.tsunamispecialenvoy.org
Other similar examples include the survival of the tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Scientists believe that the ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, the sea and birds helped these traditional communities to “sense” the tsunami and to flee to the highland forests, much before the waves hit the coast.
Yet another example, illustrating the power of knowledge and education is the story of ten-year-old, British school girl Tilly Smith, who warned the tourists to flee to safety, moments before the tsunami engulfed the coast. The girl had recognized the signs of an approaching tsunami after learning about them in her geography class at school, just weeks before visiting Thailand. These stories are but few reminders about the importance of addressing the non-technical and non-scientific aspects of the early warning chain, if early warning systems are to be truly people centered.