‘Alert’ on ‘potential tsunami threat’ bares lapses in early warning mechanism | Daily News

‘Alert’ on ‘potential tsunami threat’ bares lapses in early warning mechanism

A 6.4 magnitude undersea earthquake near Southern Sumatra, Indonesia triggered the local Meteorology and Disaster Management authorities to issue an ‘alert’ on ‘potential tsunami threat’ last morning.

The DMC followed it up with another alert in 55 minutes declaring all coastal areas in Sri Lanka safe and that there was no Tsunami threat. The first message issued at 10.15 a.m .read, “all coastal communities need to be alert as a 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurred in Sumatra. Potential Tsunami exists”.

The second alert issued at 11.10 a.m. read, “No Tsunami threat to Sri Lanka. The coastal areas in Sri Lanka are declared as safe. Public further informed that the earthquake alert will be cancelled”.

Several lapses in the country’s communication and early warning mechanism came to light in the way these alerts were given out and received.

The Daily News spoke to DMC Media Spokesman Pradeep Kodippili seeking a clarification as to why they revoked an “earthquake alert”. He argued what was initially issued was an earth quake alert and not a tsunami alert. He also stressed that it was not a “warning” but an alert issued “for public awareness”.

Then the Daily News asked as to why the first message took about one and half hours since the earth quake occurred. (The origin time of the earth quake was 8.38am in Sri Lankan time. The Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre had issued three bulletins by 9.40 am in Sri Lankan time.)

“We issued the alert no sooner the Met Department informed us. We follow their instructions. The Met Department is the authority responsible in issuing early warnings,” replied Kodippili.

Kodippili further said the early warning message was communicated to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Media and fisheries harbours as soon as the DMC was informed by the Met Department. “All 77 tsunami towers were ready to be used, but we did not activate the sirens in them as there was no evacuation order. We knew the risk was low. We should not agitate the people unnecessarily,” he added.

The Daily News also spoke to the duty officer at the Met Department and posed the question on the time gap in early warning communication. “As the magnitude of earthquake was below 6.5 and depth was 40 km, we knew the tsunami risk was low. We usually follow Early Warning Centres of India, Australia and Indonesia. The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre throughout the period said that there was no Tsunami threat. However, the Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre in its second bulletin issued at 9.04 am in Sri Lankan time stated that ‘there is a potential tsunami threat to countries in the Indian Ocean’. We informed this to the DMC, but did not immediately inform the public as the people could panic. If we were sure of the threat, we would have communicated it to all relevant bodies within 10 minutes,” the officer explained.

Neither the Met Department’s official website nor its twitter account was updated about the yesterday’s early warning alert. The Met Department’s last web announcement related to Tsunami warning was on June 7 and its last weather-related post in the Official Twitter account was on April 17.

Asked as to why these online platforms were not updated, the duty officer commented, “Today is a Sunday. Only two of us are at work. We have to respond to the calls of three to four phones. At the same time we have to search for international updates time to time and analyze them. It is with difficulty we find time to update the website”. 

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