Editorial comment – Tsunami preparedness

Members of the public responded to the Tusnami warning in Suva today. Picture: JONA KONATACI

The director for the National Disaster Management office, Anare Leweniqila, yesterday made it clear that a surprise communication tsunami test does not require prior warning.

Before the test the NDMO ran yesterday, Mr Leweniqila said this was to analyse the readiness status of those who lived along coastal areas.

The surprise communication test by the Mineral Resources Department (MRD), he said, was conducted yesterday morning as part of tsunami awareness and preparedness.

The test, he said, was intended to test the communication protocol from MRD, NDMO and emergency operators like the Fiji Police Force and the National Fire Authority.

The exercise, he said, would be conducted on the 5th of every month.

This would allow the MRD to test its real time communication system along with the NDMO in co-ordinating movement of people on the ground.

A lot of people, he said, were quick to evacuate yesterday morning when the sirens sounded. This showed that people were aware of the evacuation systems that were in place.

The NDMO, he said, also received calls from members of the public, “which indicates people’s responsiveness to the early warning system”.

Eight new tsunami sirens were commissioned in October to sound the alarm for people of Suva in the event of a tsunami.

Aside from the reaction of the masses in the city, there were also many people who expressed concern over the sirens. Perhaps we should consider the fact that tsunamis can strike without much warning. It could be during peak hours in the city perhaps, or at an “inconvenient time”.

That’s just the nature of our world. We are slap bang in the Ring of Fire where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are expected.

In January last year, an official tsunami alert went out for Fijians to take appropriate action.

Triggered by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, the sensible option was to make a beeline for the highest point nearby which was what thousands of Fijians did.

In hindsight, many questions would have been raised by the events that happened that day.

If a tsunami had been generated by the massive quake, one wonders whether our reaction time was fast enough, and organised?

In the Capital City, the streets soon became clogged with people and traffic heading in the same direction. Around the same time, some villagers along the coast past Lami were by the Queens highway selling duruka, oblivious to the tsunami alert.

They had no radio and no internet connection.

They felt the quake and shrugged this off, not comprehending the possible danger.

A tsunami could have the power to sweep across a great area of coastal land, destroying homes, sweeping through vehicles and drowning people.

A tsunami generated by a massive quake close to Fiji would need very little time to hit us.

That is why we must be prepared. We have to accept the fact that tsunamis are also our problem.

Mind-sets will need to change.

Massive earthquakes should inch out a quick reaction time where people are more responsive and alert.

We all should have a hand in driving this change.

Clearly there needs to be some thought put into addressing communication issues and how the masses are quickly informed about changing scenarios.

There may be criticism in the wake of the warning sirens, however, it pays to be vigilant.

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