Monday, March 28, 2005


I watched a fascinating BBC documentary yesterday evening about the tsunami tragedy in South East Asia. Remember that? I had all but forgotten it. Since then there have been plenty of topics like Schiavo and Jackson to keep the 24-hour news channels occupied with their experts and their charts and their predictions. It was the fact that it was Easter Sunday that jolted me into watching, since the tragedy happened just after our last big Christian holiday.

Two things in particular interested me. One of the first waves to hit Indonesia was preceded by a massive trough which actually sucked the water AWAY from the coastline minutes before the fatal strike. The mostly-European holidaymakers on the beaches, clearly chilled out on their hard earned vacations, remained in their sun loungers, sipping their beers and licking their ice creams, watching the unusual spectacle without so much as a care in the world. They had absolutely no idea the retreating water was nature’s way of saying RUN!!!!!

The documentary interviewed a man who was Indonesia’s leading expert on tsunami who had been fired by the government because they feared his speculation, that the region was not prepared for waves with even 10% of the destructive power as those which caused such devastation in December, was bad for the tourist industry. Guess what; he was reinstated in January. Maybe the horse has bolted but at least NOW the gate is locked!!!!

Then we had an interview with a worker from The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) in Hawaii. Seemingly their ultra sensitive equipment detected the earthquake, and followed its own strict protocols in relaying a message around the world, which was worded something like this : “We at the PTWC have recorded an earthquake in South East Asia, and there is no apparent threat.” What the message meant is that there was no apparent threat to the countries for which the station was set up. However, since the message was sent to stations all over the region, what were THEY supposed to think? OK, maybe the Asians were under-prepared, but come on guys, a little heads up would be nice! According to the documentary it took the PTWC 50 minutes to make up their minds that the protocol book should be thrown out the window and they should call anyone and everyone.

It is pointless to attribute blame, but we do have to look to what happens in the future. A brief bout of surfing tells me there is much debate about how we can update our warning systems around the world. And in THIS case, when I say "we", I mean "EVERYONE". Giant waves and earthquakes have little respect for our system of nations and borders and jurisdictions.

I am not a man of science by any description whatsoever, but one thing I DO know is that if we can use satellites and billion dollar computers to make sure missiles accurately reach their destination, we can formulate a system to minimize the loss when Mother Nature unleashes her power yet again.

The question is, do we really want to?

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