A tsunami warning system could be built in the Indian
Ocean in just a year and cost as little as $20 million
but experts warn the high-tech network of sensors and
buoys would be useless unless countries like Indonesia
beef up communications links to the coastal communities
that would be hit by giant waves.
Many coastal villages that bore the brunt of last
month's earthquake and tsunami lack modern communication
networks. Many don't even have telephones.
"There's no point in spending all the money on a fancy
monitoring and a fancy analysis system unless we can
make certain that the infrastructure for the broadcast
system is there," said Phil McFadden, chief scientist at
Geoscience Australia, which has been tasked with
designing an Indian Ocean system by the Australian
"That's going to require a lot of work," he said. "If
it's a tsunami, you've got to get it down to the last
Joe on the beach. This is the stuff that is really very
An Indian Ocean tsunami warning system is expected to
dominate January 6th gathering of leaders from stricken
nations and world donors following the Dec. 26
earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 150,000
Asian leaders including Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi - whose nation's $500 million pledge
makes it the biggest contributor so far - are to attend
Thursday's summit, along with U.S. Secretary of State
Colin Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and top
European Union officials.
A tsunami warning system already links 26 Pacific Ocean
nations. If it had been expanded to the Indian Ocean
coastal countries, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration might have been able to warn them, the
agency's chief, Conrad C. Lautenbacher, said last week.
Over the years, the United Nations and other agencies
that track tsunamis have endorsed establishing such a
system for the Indian Ocean. But the countries that
suffered the highest death tolls, like Indonesia and Sri
Lanka, say they lack the funds to finance such a system.
Among the dozen nations effected by the Dec. 26
earthquake and tsunami, only Indonesia received any
warning from NOAA, and then only indirectly through
Australia. Officials from the Pacific Ocean warning
system put out an advisory to their members and
attempted unsuccessfully to contact countries in the
path of the tsunami.
Thailand and Indonesia are pushing hard for the system.
Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said it
would help provide "security for tourists" that are the
lifeblood of southern Thailand.
McFadden said a system for the Indian Ocean basin would
cost from $15 million to $20 million and take 12 months
to build. It would include 30 seismographs to detect
earthquakes. Ten tidal gauges and six special DART (deep
ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis) buoys would
also be needed determine whether an earthquake has
generated a tsunami, he said.
He estimates that each DART buoy will cost about
$250,000 initially, plus annual maintenance costs of up
"My guess at this stage is probably about six DART
buoys, which is a fair amount of money," he said. "But
this amount of money is nothing compared to the cost of
what has happened."
But McFadden's figures do not include the cost and time
needed to upgrade communications networks in many
countries nor the process of educating local populations
unfamiliar with the dangers of tsunamis.