Sunday, January 04, 2009

Tsunami warning system overloaded

Map of Earthquake Location  in the Irian Jaya region, Indonesia at 2009/01/03 22:33:45 (UTC)The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a bulletin at 0211z 04 Jan 2009 on a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. The reports of tsunami wave activity were not serious (Saipan US 0.10m, Tosashimizu Shikoku 0.15m). However, a potentially serious problem is that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center web server was not responding:

Message pacific.2009.01.04.020955

Fatal error: Maximum execution time of 25 seconds exceeded in /ptwc/www/html/include/inc_lastRSS.php on line 92

The problem only occurred with the HTML version of the message, the text only version was unaffected. The problem appears to have affected the HTML versions of all the tsunami warnings, including those a month old. The RSS feed version of the service was unaffected.

By 2:46 pm AEST, the PTWC web site was providing a blank web page, rather than error message. The header and sidebar of the page was appearing, but the tsunami bulletin details, which are the essential information, were missing. An inspection of the source code showed commented out code for "2008 Tsunami Awareness Month" and "Exercise Pacific Wave 08". Both these events are over and the redundant code should be deleted. There were also two Javascript files included (total 53 Kbytes). Inclusion of this unnecessary code would slow down the display of the web page, adding to the site's problems.

NOAA need to modify the design of their system to better cope with the likely load. This can't be done by simply installing more web server capacity. The design of the Internet service needs to take the requirements for sudden high demand into account.

The West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center provided a map of the location of the earthquake. However, it then referred the reader to the Pacific centre for more details.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre issued a "National No Threat Bulletin" 2026Z Sat 03 Jan 2009.

ICT professionals may feel it is not their place to tell emergency experts and government officials how to do their business, but in this case it is. Failure to build an effective warning system is unethical, and in addition may be a crime.

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