Twenty-three countries of the Indian Ocean rim participated successfully in an ocean-wide tsunami exercise on 12 October. At the same time the new regional advisory service provided by the Regional Tsunami Service Providers (RTSPs) of Australia, India and Indonesia became operational, ushering in a new era of regional cooperation for tsunami warning in the Indian Ocean.
The commencement of the RTSPs service in the Indian Ocean marks a significant milestone for the IOTWS and represents the culmination of six years of development and preparation since the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the IOTWS decided to develop its own regional tsunami warning capability in December 2005.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova marked the transition of responsibility for the tsunami warning system with a video address to the new RTSPs. “All this shows what can be done when States and societies join together to reach common goals,” said Irina Bokova. “This is a major step to protecting the lives and livelihoods of all coastal communities in the Indian Ocean.”
Exercise IOWave 11 re-enacted the 26 December 2004 great earthquake event, with a simulated 9.2 magnitude earthquake off the North West coast of Sumatra (Indonesia), followed by an ocean-wide tsunami. The new RTSPs of Australia, India and Indonesia together with the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) and the Interim Advisory Service providers, Japan Meteorological agency (JMA) and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) between them issued a total of 82 bulletins to the National Tsunami Warning Centres (NTWCs) of the 23 participating countries.
Preliminary results indicate that all the participating NTWCs were able to receive timely messages from the RTSPs. Most countries conducted national exercises involving key emergency response agencies, with many conducting tabletop or functional exercises to test their tsunami warning and emergency response Standard Operating Procedures. Four countries (India, Kenya, Malaysia and Mauritius) reported conducting evacuation drills at coastal communities. In India, drills were conducted at 17 coastal villages in 3 provinces. All countries considered the exercise to be successful although several minor problems have been identified which will require corrective action.
Overall, Exercise IOWave 11 achieved its goal of evaluating the state of readiness of Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, its operational RTSPs, the NTWCs and National Disaster Management Organizations, in responding to a potentially destructive tsunami. The exercise has provided an opportunity for Indian Ocean countries to test their operational lines of communications, and to review their tsunami warning and emergency response Standard Operating Procedures. A full evaluation of the exercise will now be conducted and a report will be published by the end of November 2011.