Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System: An Intergovernmental Endeavor

Oceanographic buoys

© NOAA Corps/E. Christman
Tsunami warning system

“Following the  earthquake  [12 September 2007] which occurred off the coast of Indonesia, I had the information on my table within fifteen minutes, enabling us to evaluate and take a decision to evacuate the coastal area. Within forty-five minutes, the authorities were able to get the people out of coastal areas using the systems put in place after the tsunami.” 

- Mahinda Samarasinghe, Former Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Sri Lanka

The Indian Ocean tsunami (26 December 2004) killed over 230,000 people, displaced more than one million people, and left a massive trail of destruction along the coasts of the affected countries.      

Recognizing the need for an early warning system, the Indian Ocean Member States turned to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO to form an Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) to implement an Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS), and in other oceans as well.     

Since the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy, considerable progress has been made in the installation of vital earthquake and tsunami detection equipment.  The implementation of the core components of the IOTWS, with further seismic and sea level monitoring capacity being added to the core networks has been complemented with a 24/7 network of very active Tsunami Warning Focal Points (TWFPs) that communicate with each other and perform frequent communication tests.    

Significant progress also has been made towards establishing a network of Regional Tsunami Watch Providers (RTWPs), to replace the Interim Advisory Service.  India began operating its national system in June 2008, followed by Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia that same year.    

While national governments have primary responsibility for defining and implementing national preparedness procedures, UNESCO/IOC has been supporting the development of technical, educational and communication plans that are scientifically based and culturally adapted. The governance model of the regional ICGs has provided important insights into establishing systems responsibly within nationally owned end-to-end systems.

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