Watching BBC news 24, interviewer is talking to a representative of the USGS who helped set up the pacific tsunami early warning system.

BBC: “So why wasn’t a similar system put in place in the indian ocean”
USGS: “Well, this kind of event is extremely rare, warning systems require the infrastructure to detect, monitor and propogate information down to the local level where tens of thousands of people have to been given training to act in the correct way in order for them to be effective”
BBC: “So you are saying that this system hasn’t been considered because of the costs”
USGS: “Well, in the indian ocean we expect events such as this at worst ever 50 to 100 years, and it doesn’t seem jus..”
BBC *interrupts*: “So you trying to put a cost on peoples lives?”
*interview ends*

I’m trying to work out the propagation speed (nobody on the interweb seems to know that or the wavelength of the wave) but even if it were say 400 miles an hour, (which i think is an underestimate) sri-lanka would have had at most 3 hours warning, and indonesia would have have had practically none.

The next worst natural disaster (based on current figures) is now bangladesh in 1991, where 138,000 people died.

5 Responses to “”

  1. al_bullit says:

    The BBC news site was saying the wave was moving a ~500km/h.

  2. 561 says:

    In some ways it is up to individual countries whether to implement communication and evacuation plans – note that this is not like evacuating for a storm or a volcano, you only need to move people about 1km or to higher ground.

    I still believe that detection should be implemented globally since such waves are predictable. Whether such a generalised system would be possible with current technology I do not know.

    You are correct in saying that nothing could have saved Indonesia but 3 hours warning is better than none at all especially when it is such a specific geographical area that you must evacuate.

  3. feodora says:

    probabilty and speed

    In german news they said it has a probability of once in 700 Years and that the wave had a speed of a jet.
    If there would have been a warning system the warning would have come appr. 1 h ahead. More than enough time to evacuate the most dangerous places and save 1000 of lifes!!!

  4. admin says:

    Re: probabilty and speed

    My point was to do with priorities.

    At current levels of temperature change, in 100 years time bangladesh will pretty much cease to exist, causing 140 million people to be displaced, no doubt causing a lot of trouble.

    2.3 million people died of tuberculosis

    Globally, every year about 1.4 million people die of malaria.

    nearly 3 million people have died of AIDS this year,

    Measles, which is preventable with an effective vaccine, killed approximatly 1 million people last year.

    The cost of implementing a system for preventing probably on average around 1000 deaths a year (at best) would be sufficient to prevent around 10 times as many deaths elsewhere in a given year.

    The indian ocean is a geologically quiet area, this is a very rare event and compared to other preventable natural disasters in a given population the number of deaths is not as significant as it sounds (because such a large number of people were exposed).

  5. admin says:

    The pacific system has two very rich countries (USA and Japan) who are very happy to pay for it, the indian ocean does not have the benefit of such wealthy patrons.

    I don’t know what you mean by “predictable” i doubt that the earthquake itself was predictable to any degree of accuracy, given the mediocre accuracy of prediction systems in existing hot spots which will have higher resolution sensors.

    Another issue is, I don’t know if you get a fix in real time on geological readings, my guess is that the general location system works on post-correlation of non-realtime data from a set of time-correlated sources (although the pacific system must do it in real time)

    one problem is that the magnitude of the wave isn’t necessarily proportional to the magnitude of the earthquake, this quake caused an unusual ammount of localised displacement on the sea bed.

    I wonder if you could monitor the progression of waves by satelite…

    The coast line of the indian ocean must be 30,000 km or more long, say that you only have to protect the first km of coast line, that is an area the size of say swizerland in which you have to warn everybody within the space of an hour or two to do something.