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UNESCO chief hails first test of tsunami warning

UNESCO chief hails first test of new tsunami warning system

Hailing the success of a new region-wide Tsunami warning system in the Pacific Ocean, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today congratulated the nations that took part in the coordinated effort.

“The test has shown that our communication system and general preparedness is by and large working well,” UNSECO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said in a statement. “It’s clear that the drill has been a great success.”

Mr. Mastuura said the countries that participated in the test were quickly informed about the results by the Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu, Hawaii, which coordinated the event.

As many as 30 countries took part in the exercise, which also involved local emergency, relief and evacuation services in selected costal residential areas and schools in Malaysia, the Philippines, Samoa and Thailand.

Though a detailed analysis of the test results is still awaited, UNESCO officials say they are hoping that the evaluation of the warning system would strengthen the ability of the countries and organizations in the region to deal with the Tsunami threat in the future in a more effective manner.

“The drill was based on very realistic scenarios,” explained Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of the UNESCO-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), saying that it was mainly focused on testing national and international communication networks “to make sure that the information is received quickly by the right people in all participated countries.”

Noting that the test was carried out amid a series of earthquakes, he pointed to the need for improvement of network systems in some areas of the region. “That must work on 24/7 basis,” he said. “The ability to effectively disseminate public warnings – especially very late at night or during the early hours of the morning – is one such area.”

The test also highlighted the issue of how to deal with the extra pressure placed on emergency response agencies facing a tsunami very close to their coasts. “For example,” Mr. Bernal said, “in the scenario applied yesterday of a 9.2 earthquake off the Chilean coast, Chilean authorities would have had to respond in few minutes, with incomplete information.” Japan, one the other hand, he added, would have had 22 hours to assess the event and adopt the “proper” emergency measures.

Established by UNESCO-IOC about 40 years ago, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii is known as the hub of Tsunami Warning and Migration System. The IOC is now installing a similar system in the India Ocean, the north-eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean and Connected Seas, and the Caribbean, which is due to start functioning by the end of next year.

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