AIR spotlight summary on “Progress made in the early Tsunami Warning System in India”



AIR spotlight summary on “Progress made in the early Tsunami Warning System in India”




December 26, 2016 is the 12th anniversary of the 2004 Tsunami which took place in Indian Ocean. It was caused by an earthquake that had equivalent energy of 23,000 units and similar to Hiroshima type atomic bomb. During that time the people and the government was not prepared for such a kind of disaster.

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

  • The earthquake of 9.2 magnitude occurred in Indian Ocean near the Sumatra-Andaman Subduction Zone. This triggered a massive and largest Tsunami in the Indian Ocean region. Over 2.3 lakh people died across 14 countries in the Indian Ocean region and out of which the major affected countries were Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
  • At that time there was no Tsunami warning system in place in India. Though similar system existed in other parts of the world in pacific and Atlantic, but was not able to provide early warning to the Indian Ocean region.
  • In 2004 Government of India approved a programme having brainstorming with various agencies like ISRO, CSIR, DST and DOD. Within 2 years a state-of-the-art Tsunami warning system was established at Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad. By October 2007, 24*7 early warning systems was in place which is capable of giving early warning within 10 minutes of occurrence of earthquake anywhere in Indian Ocean region.      

Tsunami Early Warning System

  • The time the Tsunami takes to reach the mainland region is about 2 hours. So if we provide early warning within 10 minutes of the occurrence of the earthquake, there will be a time of 1 hour 50 minutes to evacuate people from the coastal region. People have to go to higher grounds and if ships are stationed at the ports, they will have to go into the sea which can be easily done within 1 hour 50 minutes.
  • INCOIS is developing 3D GIS mapping in vulnerable coastal areas to have new early warning systems for tsunamis in the eastern coast of India. This will be extended to other vulnerable areas of the Indian coasts.
  • There is a standard operating procedure to deal with Tsunami activities which are established by Tsunami warning centre at Hyderabad. This information is passed on to National Disaster Management Authority within 10 minutes of occurrence of earthquake. The coastal states administrators have been trained to provide the help required for the people living in the coastal region. There are periodic awareness programmes in the coastal region and people will be taught what to do when the Tsunami occurs.
  • The situation of the 1999 Orissa Cyclone was totally different from present situation. There was no predictive capability to give early warnings. Now there are 12 kms high resolution models to give forecasts for cyclones 5 days in advance. We were able to see 10 days in advance that the Vardha cyclone would hit the Chennai coast. This has helped to take necessary precautions and save human lives.
  • In 2010 there was National Disaster Management Guidelines which emphasised on advanced systems like Topography, GIS database and remote sensing data. Tsunami warning system is a system of systems where it requires various branches of science and technology to develop the system and make it operational. We require data from satellites, ocean observation systems, ships, and good communication to generate tsunami forecast.
  • During 2004 Tsunami all the communication lines failed except radio. Radio was the only medium of communication between all the affected areas. Today in the event of failure of telephone communication, there is satellite communication to the vulnerable areas.

Taking care of vulnerable population during Tsunami

The known fact which is acknowledged by UNICEF and WHO is that in any disaster the most affected victims are women and children. Data shows that children’s die 3 times more than others. National Disaster Management Authority and the National Disaster Response Force have necessary infrastructure to take care of the vulnerable people such as women, children and elderly people.

International Cooperation

The ocean processes have no political boundaries. If something happens in Indonesia can affect India. So we need to have good International cooperation and sharing of information to deal with natural disasters that occur in oceans. Observation setup at different parts of Indian Ocean region would be required to give an exact early warning. The international cooperation is being organised by UNESCO.