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Beach warnings are adequate. But how safe are we at night?

Tsunami Warning Test: How Safe Are We?

Saturday, July 5, 2008
Look for our tsunami test report on July 7

THE sounding of the 79 tsunami warning towers along the Andaman coast on Monday presents an ideal opportunity for the authorities to tell us honestly just how safe we really are.

The key question is this: what happens if the next tsunami comes at 3am, a strong wind is blowing the sound from the towers offshore, no television sets are on, and we are all asleep in our beds?

How will a tourist asleep in a resort on the beachfront be warned in time to run to safety?

How will a warning be delivered if the minimum number of staff are on duty, and they are new to their jobs?

Last year's tsunami warning test was a promotional event, staged for national television. Because it had all been carefully rehearsed, everything work perfectly for the cameras in Patong.

Elsewhere, the story was very different. Many towers failed to sound.

At Karon, the siren worked well. But at Kata, local dignitaries gathered by the tower, and waited and waited. Nothing happened.

This year, Phuketwan has been told, the 79 towers have been checked in advance. No doubt the appearance will be given on Monday that everything is in readiness should a second tsunami roll in sometime soon.

We would like to know how many of the 79 towers were found to be faulty when they were checked in readiness for Monday's performance.

That answer would surely tell us whether the daytime warning system works all year long, not just on the one day each year when the system is ''tested'' for national television.

And let's face it, the towers are a daytime warning system. If another tsunami comes while the sun is up, people are bound to be on the beaches or close to the sand.

Yet as another year wears on, and tower parts fall in to disrepair, or wiring is stolen, the system becomes less effective.

How often are each of the 79 towers checked and tested individually? How many resorts along the coast practice their own tsunami alerts?

Oddly enough, although 10 times more deaths and damage occurred along the beachfront in and around Khao Lak, the two annual demostrations of the system have been held on Phuket, in Patong and this year at Saphan Hin.

One would have thought that Khao Lak is the place that most needs a working alarm, given that recent history tells us that most lives are at risk there.

It could even be argued that Khao Lak should always be the place to hold annual tests.

There are fewer tourists in Khao Lak at this time of the year than there are on Phuket, so less unnecessary disturbance would occur.

Surely the tests are not being staged on Phuket because the island happens to appeal to the authorities, or the island is more suitable for a television broadcast?

And if any part of the coast deserves to be promoted in the context of being ''tsunami ready,'' surely it's Khao Lak.

The authorities tell us they have a cell-phone network in place that will allow them to contact local officials in the event of a serious tsunami alarm.

What has not been answered is what happens if some of those local officials are human, and turn off their telephones late at night.

What if someone loses their cell phone? What if a coincidental problem brings down the telephone network as the tsunami rolls in?

Attitudes towards the tsunami differ markedly. There are people in the Phuket tourism industry who want the whole experience to be forgotten.

They believe that recalling the 2004 tsunami damages the industry.

Others, notably around Khao Lak, have no intention of forgetting the tsunami, or its significance.

Tourists who come for a holiday on the Andaman coast region know there was a tsunami here. They come in the belief that a second tsunami is extremely unlikely.

Yet the reason why tsunami warnings remain important is the lesson half a century ago from Hawaii, where a second tsunami followed the first, 14 years later.

Sure, a second tsunami in Thailand is unlikely. But if one did come and the warning system failed, that would ruin Thailand's Andaman tourist industry forever.

The appearance is given that everyone is being adequately protected, so the international law suits involved in a repetition of the 2004 tsunami would probably empty Thailand's national coffers.

We do not think a second tsunami is likely, but we do believe eternal vigilance is required.

So is a warning system that works every day and every night, all year long, not just for a once a year television performance.

For three-and-a-half years now, many questions about Thailand's preparedness for a second tsunami have gone unanswered.

So . . . What happens if the next tsunami comes at 3am, a strong wind is blowing the sound from the towers offshore, the television sets are all off, and we are all asleep in our beds?

Are we safe?

If you are a tourist visiting the region, what does your resort say about tsunami warnings? Tell us below

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The Tsunami Toll One Year Later


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Friday June 21, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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