25.11.2011 - ODG

Standing Ready: Director-General Visits State-of-the-Art Tsunami Early Warning Center

© UNESCO/Cynthia Guttman Director-General in Central Control Station of the Tsunami Early Warning Centre in Jakarta on 24 November 2011.

UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova explored the central control station from where tsunami warnings are sent out and tested an earthquake simulator during a visit to the Tsunami Early Warning Center in Jakarta, Indonesia on 24 November 2011.

It only takes five minutes between the time the earth shakes and a tsunami warning goes out to local governments,  electronic media, cellphones and social community networks.

This was not the case when a tsunami struck in Aceh on 26 December 2004, killing over 160,000 people.

In response to the event, the countries of the region came together to develop an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, under the governance of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

The Indonesian President launched the national Tsunami Early Warning System in November 2008.  Considered state-of-the art, the Center operates as a Regional Tsunami Service Provider, in partnership with India and Australia.  Since 2008, it has issued 11 warnings, of which five concerned actual tsunamis.

"The Tsunami Early Warning system is a remarkable achievement of multlilateral and bilateral cooperation. It is providing an essential public service to the people,  and I commend the government of Indonesia for all it is doing to ensure the safety of people at risk of future threats," said the Director-General.

Some thirty to forty large screens in the control room display data on seismic and ocean activity that is relayed by satellite from 160 locations. Half of Indonesia’s 80,000 kilometer coastal area is prone to tsunami.

One part of the story is sending out the alert; the other is knowing how to react to it.  "Our focus is on building awareness, preparedness and education in schools and communities," said the Centre’s Director Mrs. Sriworo Harijanto.

UNESCO is working with the Centre and other Indonesian partners to train teachers and students about how to react and to help each other when a warning is issued.  When schools have such standard operating procedures in place, many lives can be saved.

Stating that Indonesia lives "between paradise and hell" because of its vulnerability, UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Teacher Education in Southeast Asia, Christina Hakim, expressed her readiness to disseminate widely UNESCO programmes on disaster preparedeness and thanked the Organization for its initiatives.

The Director-General tested an earthquake simulator – a small furnished cabin that helps the public understand the sensation of what happens when the earth literally moves under one’s feet.

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