Thailand Ready to Activate First Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning

PHUKET, Thailand, July 15, 2005 (ENS) - The resort island destination of Phuket, Thailand is about to become the first Indian Ocean location to have a tsunami warning system.

The "Phuket Gazette" reports that the island’s tsunami warning system will be linked in August via satellite to the National Disaster Warning Center (NDWC) based in Nonthaburi province, part of the greater Bangkok Metropolitan Area.

The NDWC system will make Thailand the first of the countries hit by the December 26, 2004 tsunami to create a national warning system.

Triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, the tsunami struck without warning, killing more than 280,000 people and displacing more than 158 million others in 11 Indian Ocean countries.

No regional tsunami warning system was in place because in living memory of the Indian Ocean countries, no tsunami had ever been experienced.

Life has been back to normal for several months at Patong Beach, which has been chosen for the location of the pilot project.

Patong now has three NDWC warning towers complete with sirens and there are plans to increase the number of towers to cover 24 locations around Phuket.

The warning towers were tested on April 29, when the country conducted its first ever tsunami evacuation drill at Patong Beach.

The first drill was attended by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and it was completed ahead of schedule. The goal was to have Patong Beach cleared within 30 minutes, but the exercise took only 12 minutes to complete.

The drill will now be repeated every three to six months, officials say.

"Even if we have another tsunami, or even 10 more tsunamis, we will be able to prevent the deaths of residents and tourists if we have an efficient warning system and evacuation plan in place, and tourists will then be assured of their safety when visiting Phuket," Shinawatra said.


Patong Beach on Phuket Island, February 2, 2005 after hundreds of people had worked for weeks to clean the debris left by the tsunami. (Photo courtesy
Boonchai Somjai, head of the Phuket Provincial Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said that in addition to the sirens that will sound warnings from the towers, the system will be capable of interrupting radio and television programs to alert the public to the approach of a tsunami or any other disaster. The system will also be capable of delivering warning messages to mobile phones.

A Cabinet meeting will be held next month to approve a budget for the construction of 62 alarm system towers in the six Andaman coast provinces and Bangkok, the Gazette reports.

Tourism is the mainstay of the economy along the Andaman coast, and particularly in Phuket, Thailand's most important tourist destination. The Thai government is anxious to assure potential visitors that they will not be taken by surprise if another natural disaster strikes.

Dr. Smith Thammasaroj, who was appointed to establish the NDWC, said, “Installing the tsunami alarm system should help tourists gain confidence in the safety of the region.”

Patong Beach is back to normal after hard work by hundreds of people in January, the month after the tsunami piled cars on top of each other and destroyed shops and homes in the tourist town. Crews worked to clean the town, the famous beach and divers cleaned the underwater area of debris. By January 21, local children were playing in the clear water at Patong.

The alarm system in Patong will be tested once the satellite link to Nonthaburi is complete.

Chairat Sukbal, deputy mayor of Patong Municipality, told the Gazette, “We are in the midst of solving problems related to the satellite. However, we will inform the public at least one week in advance so they can get ready for the test.”