Tourism News

Tourism News Phuketwan Tourism News
facebook recommendations


Sign up now for our News Alert emails and the latest breaking news plus new features.

Click to subscribe

Existing subscribers can unsubscribe here


The Nielsen family, relaxing on a tsunami-free Patong beach

Phuket's Tsunami Evacuation: What Went Wrong?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Phuketwan News Analysis

THE WORST outcome in a tsunami alert is to have one that comes too late to save lives. Wednesday's tsunami false alarm produced a result that highlighted the flaws in the current alert system.

And fortunately the only real casualty was Thailand's pride. The tsunami alarm - real at one point and false at another - proved to be an early morning wake-up call to authorities, in more ways than one.

The safety of residents and visitors should be of paramount concern. There can be no passing the buck or dodging responsibility.

Once a full evacuation is called, there can be no going back.

Before issuing its own email alert about 6.20am, Phuketwan checked and was assured by both the local director of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and Phuket Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob that a Level Three evacuation was underway.

So, what went wrong? Why did some resorts go ahead with the evacuation, while others did nothing? Who was better informed, and why?

Later in the day, tourists questioned by Phuketwan along Patong Beach had mixed experiences about the tsunami warning. Of the people we spoke to, guests from only two of six resorts had been told that a tsunami could be on the way.

Dane Brian Nielsen and his family, who were staying at the Horizon Resort, were awoken about 6.40am by staff alerting them to the tsunami warning. Within five minutes, Mr Neilsen said, hotel staff returned and asked again that he and his family evacuate. Mr Nielsen said they complied, moving to another hotel property, on higher ground.

A frequent traveler to Phuket, Mr Nielsen said that his trips included one just a few months after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, in which 5400 people died along the Andaman coast.

''The hotel staff was very kind and very helpful,'' Mr Nielsen said. ''I feel much better that they alerted us and told us.''

But the Nielsens' preparedness at the Horizon was different to the experience of guests at several other resorts located close to Patong beach.

Guests we encountered from the Courtyard Patong by Marriott, the Holiday Inn, the Baumanburi Hotel and the Mercure Patong received no notifications of a tsunami warning.

The two resorts that did notify their guests were Baan Laimai Resort and Horizon.

Danielle Bellino, Fiona Mays and Bec O'Connell, all from Australia and staying at the Mercure Patong, went about their day's activities without any early morning alarm.

''I got up about 7am or so and I had breakfast in the hotel lobby, '' Ms O'Connell said. ''We didn't hear anything about the tsunami warning.''

Ms Bellino received a phone call from her mother in Australia, telling her about the tsunami alert for Thailand that was issued after the earthquake at 5.15am, off Indonesia.

''I didn't hear anything from the hotel,'' Ms Bellino said.

Guests at other resorts had the same lack of a warning. Some said that the interview for this article was the first they had heard about the tsunami alert.

Yet Ms Bellino was not the only one who received telephone calls from friends or family in the US or Canada or Australia, telling them that a tsunami alert had been issued for Thailand.

Confusion reigned.

''No, I didn't hear about it,'' said Frank Arduca, who is staying at the Holiday Inn Phuket. ''Nobody warned us about anything.''

Diane Byrne, a guest from Ireland staying at the Baumanburi Hotel, believes that guests should have been notified. ''I'm shocked they didn't tell us,'' she said

Thanphisut Soonthornchaiyahphong, the guest relations manager at the Baumanburi Hotel, had a different reaction. ''We don't want to create panic for our customers,'' he said.

''You cannot cause panic for the people. Think of all the people driving cars and motor bikes in a panic, they could kill somebody.''

Khun Thanphisut said that the resort's general manager called his staff early in the morning and asked them to monitor the situation, but not to alarm the guests.

Khun Thanphisut also said that the Baumanburi is more protected since it's a little further from the beach, and another large hotel is in between. The hotel's tsunami preparedness plan also calls for hotel staff and guests to move to the roof.

Most Patong resorts that rise above three floors apply this tsunami escape route.

Officials canceled the tsunami alarm around 7:30am, with some resort guests on Patong Hill feeling secure but distraught, and wondering if it was safe to return.

Who was right, and who was wrong? Phuketwan is in no position to make a judgement. Nor are the guests in resorts along Phuket's west coast and the Andaman, who rely on authorities and resort managements to ensure their safety.

Many residents also live in the danger zone. If the views of the people of the fishing village of Nam Khem, north of Phuket, where 800 people died in 2004, are an accurate guide, then one thing in certain: if there is a tsunami alert, they want to be woken up and evacuated.

What the relevant authorities on Phuket now need to decide is how to make the tsunami alarm process work efficiently every time. There should be no potentially catastrophic misunderstandings in future.

Robert X. Fogarty is executive director of, an emergency preparedness NGO in New Orleans, LA, USA. Mr Fogarty is on Phuket comparing the legacy of the 2004 tsunami with the legacy from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Phuket Tsunami Alert Ends: Is It Safe to Go Back?
PHOTO ALBUM A tsunami alert triggered an evacuation on Phuket today. But would it have saved everyone? Some tourists have told of being woken up after the tsunami's arrival time.
Phuket Tsunami Alert Ends: Is It Safe to Go Back?

TSUNAMI ALERT: Evacuation for Andaman, Phuket
Breaking News Resorts along Phuket's west coast and the Andaman shoreline were being evacuated this morning in a Level Three tsunami alert. The alert followed a quake off Indonesia.
TSUNAMI ALERT: Evacuation for Andaman, Phuket

Phuket to Get Weather, Tsunami Radar System
Latest A 200 million baht radar system for the Andaman coast should alleviate concerns about the adequacy of weather warnings at sea. It may also help in a future tsunami.
Phuket to Get Weather, Tsunami Radar System

'That's My Mum' as Tsunami Victims Remember
Photo Album Tears flowed, memories flooded back, and the world shared a moment's memory of a day that will never be forgotten along the Andaman's tsunami coast.
'That's My Mum' as Tsunami Victims Remember

Thailand's Tsunami Legacy Haunted by Mistakes
Photo Album Over five years, the process of identifying nameless victims of the tsunami has represented a remarkable achievement. But ID flaws haunt the end game.
Thailand's Tsunami Legacy Haunted by Mistakes


Comments have been disabled for this article.


What went wrong....bloody everything. No damn warnings in Bang Tao, Surin nor Cherng Talay. The towers here are useless. Been here a long time and have never heard a squeak out of them, not even during the safety drills. Take them down or fly kites from them.

Posted by Robin on April 7, 2010 23:22


Phuket Wan,
It wasn't an alert but a warning watch.
Your source mislead you or you misunderstood him . Relevant authorities WATCHED and dedided not to issue alert.

Issue a retraction and an apology

Posted by Mustava Mond on April 8, 2010 08:10


Some hotels didn't want to cause a panic?? What if a tsunami was triggered and hit again, what excuse would they use. Alarms must work, no excuse. In Patong's case, I think there answer is sum num nah.

Editor: The resorts all act responsibly but simply take different views on what they should and shouldn't do. Wednesday's alarm highlighted two issues: (a) Five years on, there's a forgetfulness factor in play when it comes to tsunami alerts, and (b) when it's an on-off alert, confusion is inevitable. The objective should be to avoid confusion. As the villagers of Nam Khem have decided on the basis of past experience, it's always better to evacuate, even if the alarm later proves to be false.

Posted by billydale on April 8, 2010 20:22

Friday June 21, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


Facebook Twitter