Indonesia quake and tsunami: Is it time for a rethink of warning systems?

Questions are being raised about an early warning system designed to prevent deaths after Friday's devastating Indonesian tsunami.

An early warning system that might have prevented some deaths in the tsunami that hit an Indonesian island last week has been stalled in the testing phase for years.

The network of seafloor sensors, data-laden sound waves and fibre-optic cable was meant to replace a system set up after an earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 250,000 people in the region in 2004.

AP has reported “inter-agency wrangling” and delays in finishing the project meant it had not moved further than the prototype stage, initially set up with $3 million worth of assistance from the US National Science Foundation.

Central Sulawesi was battered by six-metre high waves, following the 7.5 magnitude quake, which killed more than 800 people, on Friday.

People wait for an evacuation flight by the Indonesian military at the airport in Palu.
Source: AFP

Thousands of people have also been left homeless following the tsunami and authorities expect the death toll to keep rising.

"To me this is a tragedy for science, even more so a tragedy for the Indonesian people as the residents of Sulawesi are discovering right now," University of Pittsburgh expert in disaster management Louise Comfort told AP.

"It's a heartbreak to watch when there is a well-designed sensor network that  could provide critical information.”

Following the devastating 2004 tsunami, Indonesia placed a new focus on high-technology options to warn residents of Indian Ocean nations.

Indonesia’s geophysics agency is also under fire for lifting a tsunami warning 34 minutes after it was first issued, following the quake.

The agency said it followed standard operating procedure and made the call to end the warning based on data available from the closest tidal sensor, around 200km from Palu.

"We have no observation data at Palu. So we had to use the data we had and make a call based on that," Rahmat Triyono, head of the earthquakes and tsunami centre at BMKG said.

He said the closest tide gauge, which measures changes in sea level, only recorded an "insignificant" six-centimetre wave and did not account for the giant waves near Palu.

Published 1 October 2018 at 10:11pm, updated 2 October 2018 at 6:50am
Source: SBS News