"Those responsible for government's early warning system, whoever they are, were either asleep on the job or got caught with their ‘pants’ down, and by the time they got their act together and responded it was after the fact. So what went wrong? Why was there no co-ordinated
and timely warning?" - MICK BEDDOES
No doubt everyone is relieved that the tsunami alert or warning did not materialize and it was a good thing that ‘social media’ and inter family communication was ‘switched on’, because the only time I saw any official notice was ‘after’ the anticipated time of arrival of the tsunami had passed.
We tried calling the Met Office, Dismac and Information to no avail. I went to the official Met Office site to look for any updates, there was none, so in the end we used our own contacts and the information we had to warn family and friends to ‘act’ and move to higher ground.
Those responsible for government's early warning system, whoever they are were either asleep on the job or got caught with their ‘pants’ down and by the time they got their act together and responded it was after the fact. So What went wrong? Why was there no coordinated and timely warning?
I ask this because, what if we all waited for the ‘official notice’ to move to higher ground and it never came? What would have happened if the tsunami did hit Fiji and most of our people were ill prepared?
There is $31.9 million allocated for Rural & Maritime Development and National Disaster Management of which $3.7 million is for National Disaster Management and there is a $7.6 million allocation for the Met office for weather forecasting which included upgrading equipment in Nadi. So we know funding is there so what happened? Was it a system failure, or a timing issue or human error? We need to know.
A JAM in communication networks and the arrival time of the first wave activity during a tsunami, which is faster than the issuance of warnings, are issues Lands and Mineral Resources permanent secretary Malakai Finau says they need to work on.
Mr Finau said official warnings after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred south of Fiji took a while as his office needed some time to conduct analysis and verification before it could issue an official alert.
Mr Finau said people needed to understand that the earthquake was a local event and the arrival of the first wave activity could take five to 10 minutes, faster than the issuance of warnings.
"For local events, there is very little time, in the event that there is a tsunami to arrive," he said.
Mr Finau said the communication channels for issuance of official warnings also get delayed because of the jam in communication networks.
He said while the ministry had the basic monitoring systems in place, there were still room for improvement.
Mr Finau said from detection to informing the public, there were rooms for improvements.
"Also for us, agencies directly involved to find ways in which we can improve communications with each other and most importantly to the public.
"People should understand there is very little response time, especially response time for the agencies to contact each other because the communication lines get jammed."
He said people living in low-lying areas should always be on alert after an earthquake.
Mr Finau also outlined that seismologists in his office monitored earthquakes and tsunamis 24-hours a day and seven days a week.
"They (seismologists) monitor and they watch for local events and also they get messages from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and other sources, that's how it operates at the moment."
Mr Finau outlined that following an earthquake and depending on its magnitude, authorities should immediately warn the people.
"I can't say any time, but as soon as possible would be good but then again, it depends on the magnitude of the earthquake for big events, we need to send out the message faster." Source: Fiji Times
Timeline of earthquakes recorded in the Fiji region yesterday:
- 6.28am, 5.0 magnitude;
- 11.08am, 7.2 magnitude;
- 11.30am tsunami warning;
- 12.21pm, warning cancelled;
- 11.35am, 4.9 magnitude aftershock;
- 11.40am, 4.9 magnitude aftershock;
- 11.50am, 5.8 magnitude aftershock;
- 11.58am, 5.1 magnitude aftershock;
- 1.00pm, 5.6 magnitude aftershock and
- 1.30pm, 5.0 magnitude aftershock