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Who is kidding who: the tsunami warning system remains ineffective

Governor Criticises Tsunami Warning Test

Monday, July 7, 2008
A TSUNAMI warning drill at Saphan Hin in Phuket City appeared to go off without a hitch on July 7.

But the drill, coordinated across six Andaman coast provinces, was meaningless as a real test and brought high-level criticism of the system from at least one senior figure.

The Governor of Ranong, Kanchana Pakeemun, was one of several senior authorities who thought the tsunami warning failed the test.

She told Phuketwan there was too long a gap between the warning siren and the voice message, in five languages, explaining what was happening.

The sound was also far too faint, she said. And five towers was hardly enough to cover the long coast of a province the size of Ranong.

''If that happened at night, most people would not be able to hear or to understand what was going on,'' she said. Ranong needed at least 15 towers.

The Governor's criticism echoes concerns expressed by Phuketwan that, three and a half years after the tsunami, the entire warning system remains inadequate.

It needs to be upgraded to international standards.

Deputy Prime Minister Suwit Khunkitti, as chairman of the Committee on the National Disaster Warning Administration, oversaw proceedings at Saphan Hin on Phuket in a test orchestrated for a live television broadcast.

Several hundred schoolchildren and local people ran and walked to higher ground when the siren sounded.

Early reports indicate that the 79 tsunami towers also sounded in six provinces along the Andaman coast, but officials in Trang and Ranong found plenty to criticise.

The practice drill was aimed at reassuring residents and international tourists of Thailand's capacity to deal with another tsunami threat.

According to the Thai News Agency, one warning tower in the Coastal Aquaculture Development Centre in Trang province failed to alert villagers.

The Bangkok Post reported that Sant Chantarawong, the disaster prevention and mitigation chief of Trang, said local authorities had informed the NDWC of the faint alarms after the two previous annual drills, but the problem remained unresolved.

Phuket contains 19 of the towers in the network, which is to be expanded throughout the country as a means of warning of other kinds of natural disasters.

How the warning system is supposed to cope with different kinds of voice messages provides just one more unanswered question.

Questions could be asked about the degree of realism involved in holding the main tsunami drill at Saphan Hin, on the relatively safe east coast of Phuket.

The tsunami struck on Thailand's west coast on December 26, 2004, killing 5395 people.

''An efficient warning system is a certain kind of guarantee,'' Khun Suwit was reported as saying.

Last year, the annual drill was held in Patong.

Whether the fact that towers manage to sound once a year and several hundred schoolchildren can run, walk and jog means that Thailand is fully prepared for another tsunami is difficult to establish.

Critics of the warning system, touted as the best in the region, did not find the demonstration conclusive.

Of the total of victims of the tsunami, 381 remain in a special cemetery in Phang Nga, awaiting identification.

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Monday February 26, 2024
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