Friday, December 31, 2004

Tsunami warnings: how, precisely?

Webmink blogged on conspiracy theories surrounding the tsunami. A poster to his mailing list reported that the Thai government purportedly chose to not warn the public:

... without definitive proof of an imminent tsunami, the meteorological department dared not issue a national warning lest it be accused of spreading panic and hurting the tourism industry ...

We're all thinking about the tsunami and wondering what effect something like that would have on us. Many of my own thoughts are about what kind of warning system could have made a difference.

I have no faith that there is any way to adequately inform people of something like this. No doubt more could have been done in Thailand, Indonedsia, India, Sri Lanka etc to warn in the tourist and 'business' regions that might be affected, but how to get timely warning to residential (and in many cases low-income residential) areas? And somehow I imagine that warning all the rich tourists and leaving poor citizens to fend for themselves would go over ... oh, about as well as lots of research funding for AIDS but much less for TB, despite TB being more prevalent and cheaper to treat (well, historically).

Even thinking out the 'western' world it isn't clear. I live in the San Francisco Bay area in the US. There are a great many areas close to (or sometimes a little below) sea level, and I can't think how people there would be effectively warned. There are a whole bunch of office buildings - are authorities going to call them all? Thousands, of varying sizes? I don't imagine workers are watching the TV for some sort of news flash. Do the authorities have some sort of triage system, priorizing calls based on organization size? I can see the next round of conspiracy theories already.

There are lots of beaches without lifeguards or any other sort of official presence. Coastal hiking trails. Marinas at which there might be any number of people in their boats. Wetlands parks. Low-elevation residential areas.

How is one to get a timely warning to any of these places?

[Comments from my previous blog]

1. a reader left...
Saturday, 1 January 2005 9:02 am
Maybe via SMS? The NYT has a story, linked from

Simon Phipps

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