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Indonesia tests readiness for future disasters

Thousands participate in drill to evaluate new alert program in West Sumatra captial

Indonesia tests readiness for future disasters
Indonesia, the nation worst affected by last year's tsunami, tested its tsunami alert system in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province and sirens in Aceh province.

About 2,000 residents of Padang took part in the tsunami simulation exercise, Idwan Suhardi, deputy state minister of science and technology, said in an interview. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday activated Aceh's first warning siren after marking the anniversary of the disaster that left more than 220,000 dead and missing in 12 countries.

"When it becomes operational, the sirens will run using satellite and global system for mobile communications technology," Suhardi, deputy state minister of science and technology, said in Aceh. "All involved parties are continuously improving the system so it will become a reliable system."

An early warning system similar to the one in the Pacific Ocean may have saved lives on December 26 last year by alerting people to the threat of a tsunami following the magnitude-9 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. The earthquake increased the potential for more temblors, John McCloskey, a professor at the University of Ulster, in Coleraine, United Kingdom, said in a research paper published in the science journal Nature.

"It is encouraging to see that there has been a lot of progress," Charles McCreery, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu, said in an interview on December 22. "The challenge will be if we can be prepared when the next tsunami comes, even if that may be 100 years from now."

Simulation

In yesterday's simulation, Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysical Agency sent text messages to West Sumatra officials saying that an 8.2-magnitude earthquake had occurred with a potential to generate a tsunami.

"Immediately they passed the information and conducted an evacuation process at their areas," Suhardi said.

Indonesia, India, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and France, which has territories in the region, are developing their own warning systems after countries bordering the Indian Ocean failed to decide on who will issue alerts.

The Honolulu-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the Japan Meteorological Agency are acting as the interim warning centers for the Indian Ocean region.

Indonesia's 18,000 islands are prone to earthquakes because the nation sits along the Pacific's so-called "ring of fire" zone of active volcanoes and tectonic faults. The country lies above three major tectonic plates, or slabs of the Earth's crust that float on the planet's molten core.

Future plans

Indonesia, which was hit by more than 350 temblors stronger than magnitude-5 in 2004, plans to spend US$125 million to set up its tsunami detection system. India is investing US$28 million on its early warning network, scheduled to be ready by September 2007.

The government plans to set up seven sirens in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, chairman of the Aceh reconstruction agency.

Thailand plans to have its alert system ready by the end of 2006, and is in the process of installing 62 tsunami-warning towers along the coast of six provinces. Thailand also will set up gauges that measure changes in sea levels.

"We are united in commemoration of our neighbors, friends and families whom we lost one year ago today," Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said in statement that was read out in Khao Lak in Phang Nga province, which accounted for 80 percent of the nation's casualties. "But, we also stand united with our neighbors, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, in a system that will ensure that we no longer have to endure such loss and grief."

Thailand is in the process of installing 62 tsunami-warning towers along the coastline of the six southern provinces hit by the tsunami.

Indonesia, the world's biggest archipelago, has 129 active volcanoes, including 10 that have the potential to generate tsunamis during an eruption, said Mas Atje Purbawinata, a senior volcano observer at the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia. The Southeast Asian nation has experienced at least five tsunamis since 1800 with waves higher than 13 meters.

In Hawaii, where the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is based, 300 sirens alert residents to listen to radio and television announcements on tsunamis. The state government takes about 3 hours to evacuate 300,000 people, according to Brian Yanagi, an official at the Honolulu-based International Tsunami Information Center.