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Tsunami Must be Wake-Up Call, Like Titanic was

Tsunami Must Be Preventive Wake-Up Call, Like Titanic A Century Ago - UN Agency

December’s devastating Indian Ocean tsunami is as urgent a wake-up call for the world to get its already existing emergency communications systems in working order as the sinking of the Titanic was for instituting mandatory SOS monitoring a century ago, according to the United Nations telecommunications agency.

“In emergency situations, telecommunication saves lives,” International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi said last night in Geneva at a preparatory meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), to be held in November in Tunis. Experts have said scores of thousands of lives could have been saved had an early warning system been in effect in the Indian Ocean where the tsunami killed more than 200,000 people in a dozen countries on 26 December.

There are striking similarities in the outpouring of humanity and the calls for the introduction of an early warning system in both the Titanic and tsunami disasters, ITU said.

“In both instances the technology existed that might have prevented such a loss of life,” it noted in a news release. “In the case of the Titanic, the SOS messages sent by the Titanic’s radio operator went unheeded by ships that were within rescue distance because, at the time, it was not mandatory for ships at sea to monitor round-the-clock radiotelegraph broadcasts for distress signals.

“This changed following the sinking of the Titanic, when political will and global standards were put in place to ensure that radio distress signals would be listened to every hour of every day. ITU expects the same result from the events of 26 December. As was the case almost a century ago, the information and communication technologies exist today that could have mitigated such an enormous loss of life,” it added.

International agreements will be essential to make any early-warning system developed by the international community both practical and effective, including information flow between seismic data centres to authorities, authorities-to-authorities and authorities-to citizens the time a warning of impending natural disaster comes in.

Political will and international cooperation are vital, ITU said. “The loss of life from the sinking of the Titanic, however tragic, resulted in sea travel and transport becoming much safer for all. However, it appears the critical lessons from a century ago about the importance of technology in disaster prevention must be relearned if we are to use today’s infinitely more sophisticated telecommunication systems to make the world safer from disasters in this century.”

ITU is providing $250,000 to help develop a national plan for emergency communications in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, among other goals.

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