10.08.2011 - UNESCOPRESS

Successful first test of tsunami warning system in North East Atlantic, Mediterranean and connected seas

The communication network of the Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System for the North-eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas (NEAMTWS) was tested successfully for the first time on 10 August, marking a leap forward for the system which was initiated under the aegis of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) in 2005.

The test involved the Tsunami Warning Focal Points of 31 countries* in the region. They received a test message at 10.36 UTC via electronic mail, fax and the Global Telecommunications System (GTS)** from the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute (KOERI, Turkey). Early results show the messages were well received within a few minutes of being sent.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed satisfaction over the success of the test. “This past decade alone has shown us the terrible destructive power of earthquakes and tsunami on several occasions,” said the Director-General. “Today’s test represents a significant step towards improving security for the lives of tens of millions of people in the North-eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, and meeting UNESCO’s ambition of establishing early warning systems globally.”

“The purpose of the test was to ensure the effective communication between potential regional and national tsunami warning focal points,” said Ocal Necmioglu, co-chair of the NEAMTWS Task Team for Communication and lead scientist for this exercise at KOERI. “The exercise went smoothly. A full evaluation will be made in the coming weeks.”

“The fast transmission of warning messages and swift reaction of national authorities are crucial for the effectiveness of the entire tsunami warning system, especially in the Mediterranean where tsunamis travel through the basin in a very short time,” said Francois Schindele, chair of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for NEAMTWS.

The success of this first test paves the way for the establishment of regional tsunami warning centres. The first two, KOERI in Turkey and the Atomic Energy Centre in France, should be operational some time in 2012 when a more exhaustive test will be conducted. Others are planned for Greece, Italy and Portugal at a later date.

Historically, strong seismic activity has been observed in the Mediterranean and North-eastern Atlantic, albeit less frequently than in the Pacific Ocean. A powerful earthquake in the Azores-Gibraltar Fault Zone and subsequent tsunami destroyed the city of Lisbon in 1755. IN 1908, a sub-sea earthquake near Messina and the subsequent tsunami took the lives of more than 100,000 people in Sicily and Calabria (Italy). Weaker tsunamis have been observed  more recently, notably one generated off the coast of Algeria in 2003.

The Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System for the North-eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas is one of four regional Early Warning and Mitigation Systems coordinated by UNESCO- IOC. Similar systems are in operation in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean.


* The 31 Member States of the Intergovernmental Coordinating Group of the Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System in the North-eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas (ICG/NEAMTWS): Belgium, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

** The World Meteorological Organization’s GTS is the communications and data management component that allows the World Weather Watch to operate through the collection and distribution of information critical to its processes and warnings.

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