WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is moving on several fronts toward a global tsunami warning system following the Asian catastrophe.

Janna Hutz
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, second from left, speaks with an Indonesian tsunami patient under the care of the Australian Defence Force Aero Medical Evacuation team in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on yesterday. (AP PHOTO)

A design is emerging from the State Department’s Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) for protecting huge populations in coastal areas, and will be presented to the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Disaster Reduction this month in Kobe, Japan.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D-Conn.), is proposing legislation to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration establish a system of up to 50 buoy-based sensors throughout the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans and the Caribbean Sea. The system would need the cooperation of other coastal nations.

“We’re already looking into the practical elements of what such a system would be, what it would cost and who would run it,” said Larry Roeder, a top State Department policy adviser for disaster management, who heads the GDIN. “There has been talk over the years that maybe we should have a global system, but it’s expensive.”

Commerce Secretary-nominee Carlos Gutierrez said at his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday that “developing greater analytical and predictive capabilities … with regard to potentially hazardous weather and maritime conditions” will be one of his top priorities.

Roeder said that because of a massive movement of population to coastal areas there are “lots of other parts of the world where you have large population centers along the coast, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been seeing lots of disasters.”

The GDIN has conducted experiments based on real crises in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia, even simulating a response to an earthquake in Russia, In the case of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake Dec. 26 in the Indian Ocean, however, there were no instruments to let scientists know the massive tsunami was on the way.

It was two hours after the quake that NOAA officials learned through Internet wire service reports that a tsunami had hit Sri Lanka, which does not participate in the Pacific warning system.

Had those instruments been in place, NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher says, thousands of lives might have been spared.

Scientists in Australia also are designing an Indian Ocean warning system that they say could be built within a year for about $20 million, but that cost doesn’t include the communications links needed to warn people in coastal communities to flee before the giant waves arrive.

Such a system would have about 30 seismographs to detect earthquakes and about 10 tidal gauges and six special buoys for deep ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis.

 

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