Monday, April 02, 2007

Tsunami warnings need to be practiced

Solomon Islands tsunami travel time map from the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center 04/1/2007 at 9:13PM PDTLast week I gave a lecture at the ANU on emergency management using the web. In this I explained how tsunami warnings could be received on a mobile phone. But I cautioned the volume of warnings intended for emergency experts could cause confusion. This seems to have happened on Monday, with the earthquake in the Solomon Islands and resulting tsunami. The Queensland Government in particular seems to have caused panic due to poorly planned emergency warnings.
"Homes, hospitals, schools and beaches were evacuated as panic gripped parts of Australia's east coast after warnings a destructive tsunami could be on its way.

The quake sent a tsunami crashing into some nearby low-lying islands and sparked a Pacific-wide tsunami alert.

At the height of the crisis, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued a tsunami alert for Australia's entire east coast, including Tasmania, warning dangerous waves and currents may strike."

From: "Tsunami warning sparks panic in Qld, NSW", The Age, April 2, 2007 - 10:44AM.
tsunami alert was soon canceled, but there were unnecessary evacuations along the Queensland coast. Fortunately there appear to have been no deaths or serious injuries reported as a result.

Exercise Eleusis National Coordination Centre (NCC) DAFF PhotoThere are ways to avoid this panic, but the techniques need to be practiced and tested. One approach I suggested were better visual and multimedia representations of the data. Emergency workers are used to looking at a simple text reports and tables of numbers. But these are hard to interpret for non-experts. Instead maps can be used to show the likely direction, timing and effect of a tsunami. Animation can also be used.

Solomon Islands Earthquake Map from Pacific Tsunami Warning Center 01 Apr 2007 20:40 UTCThe
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued eight bulletins for the earthquake at 01 Apr 2007 20:40 UTC. The first warning was at 01 Apr 2007 20:55 UTC for the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. The first mention of Australia was in message 2, at 01 Apr 2007 21:32 UTC, giving an Estimated Time of Arrival in Cairns as 23:49 UTC. Message 3 gave the first observed measurement of the size of the tsunami as 15CM and Honiara. Message 8 canceled the warning at 02 Apr 2007 04:05 UTC.

In addition to the text bulletins, the PTWC provided a computer generated map of the location of the earthquake. The the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center provided a tsunami travel time map.This shows when the tsunami is expected to arrive across the Pacific. It is part of an experiment to improve the text based information.Also they have an XML based interface, which provided the warning in machine readable format.

Tsunami Warnings in Australia

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, they issue tsunami warnings, on advice from the PTWC:
In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology has responsibility for issuing tsunami warnings. For areas covered by the PTWC the warnings are issued by the Bureau under guidance from the PTWC. At the present time the Australian Tsunami Alert System (ATAS) has been established by the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia (GA) and Emergency Management Australia (EMA).

From Tsunami Information, Bureau of Meteorology, 2007
The Australian Tsunami Alert System (ATAS) issues bulletins in a similar format to those of the international warning centers.

Tsunami Alerts Issued in Queensland

The Queensland Department of Emergency Services issued three media releases for Monday's tsunami:
  1. Tsunami alert 2/4/2007 ... Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ) is urging North Queensland residents north of Mackay to take safety precautions....
  2. Updated Tsunami Alert 2/4/2007 ... BoM have advised that Willis Island Meteorological station reported NO noticeable affect of waves at 9am by which time the Tsunami should have passed. They are checking to see if there has been any affect to beaches. At this stage the threat seems to have eased, however the BoM will maintain the warnings until after any wave may pass near Cooktown. ...
  3. Eased Tsunami Threat 2/4/2007 The tsunami warning issued this morning has now eased. This was a serious warning and Emergency Services have congratulated Queenslanders on the way they reacted to the warnings. ...
Unfortunately these warnings appear to have been an ad hoc response, rather than based on a plan. The warnings do not use a standard format, or terminology. There are no times on the messages making it easy for confusion to be caused. The use of the term "Erased" to indicate that the danger had passed is non-standard and inappropriate. The Queensland Government needs to adopt a standard format and wording, similar to that used by other states and national agencies for Tsunami warnings and needs to rehearse its use.

Tsunami Advice Issued in NSW

The New South Wales State Emergency Service issued two bulletins:
  1. SES Monitoring NSW Tsunami Warning, 2 April 2007, 9:17am: A Tsunami Warning has been issued by the Bureau of Meteorology for people in coastal areas of New South Wales, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. The NSW SES are monitoring the situation along with the Bureau and urge people to keep listening to their local news programs for further advice, updates and information. ...
  2. SES Advise of NSW Tsunami Cancellation, 2 April 2007, 2:17pm: The Bureau of Meteorology has cancelled the tsunami warning that was issued earlier today for people in coastal areas of New South Wales, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. ...
The NSW warnings were better than the Queensland ones, being time stamped and using similar terminology to the BOM bulletins. They also give more detailed and useful advice than the Queensland bulletins. However, NSW emergency information is difficult to find on the web, being at least three menu levels down from the NSW Government Home Page. This lack of clear emergency information was noted in 2004. In a major emergency this deficiency in web design may result in considerable loss of life.

Blackberry - one device web pages can be used onUse of Smartphones to Enhance Response to Emergencies

The use of RIM Blackberry and other hand held devices combining phone and PDA functions ("Smartphones) is now becoming widespread in government agencies and companies. These devices could be used to enhance the response to emergencies, such as the recent tsunami, by providing better information to decision makers quickly.

Sentinel Fire Map scaled for a mobile deviceWeb pages designed for these devices would also provide a more efficient way to communicate information to emergency workers, the media and to the general public. Smartphones can display simplified maps, such as those for bushfires.

No comments: