For countries with inadequate resources for disaster preparedness, as is the case for most countries in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian region, identification of high-risk areas is crucial for prioritizing resource allocation. Tsunami preparedness, being a rare hazard in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea region, has not been prioritized until after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Tsunami awareness, and the need for preparedness, was heightened during the East Japan tsunami in March 2011 and the many strong aftershocks from the earthquake that caused it.
A tsunami risk assessment would reveal communities that would be highly vulnerable to the hazard. This, however, entails detailed inundation modeling for a range of scenarios from most important source zones, and requires computational capability and good-quality near-shore bathymetric, topographic, and exposure datasets. RIMES assessment, through the ESCAP-supported TTF-07 project, revealed that tsunami risk assessment capability in the region is very low to non-existent, except for countries like Australia, India, and Indonesia, where there is strong computational capability. The focus of capacity building efforts that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami has been on establishing a regional early warning system, strengthening of warning dissemination systems, enhancing emergency preparedness and response in the affected areas, and building tsunami risk awareness.
UNESCO/IOC implemented from 2007-2010 a project on Improving Emergency Response to Ocean-Based Extreme events through Coastal Mapping Capacity Building in the Indian Ocean (COAST MAP-IO), targeting national hydrographic offices and disaster management agencies of Bangladesh, Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Thailand. The project organized 15 regional training courses and workshops on advanced bathymetric data acquisition, processing and management; bathymetric and topographic data management and map construction; development of digital elevation models and hydrodynamic models for tsunami inundation simulation; and hazard and risk map applications. The proposed project shall build on these efforts by: a) providing a complementary survey methodology that is low-cost, yet generates high-accuracy data, and includes exposure survey (this methodology will be useful in areas that are considered high-risk, yet are currently lacking in near-shore bathymetric and topographic data); b) offering national level training to include agencies, other than the hydrographic office, concerned with near-shore bathymetric and topographic mapping and application, including research institutes and universities; c) demonstration of techniques in a pilot site to generate and showcase usefulness of products in disaster preparedness.
Investment of scarce resources also favors ventures that are effective, efficient, and have longer-lasting impact. In this regard, development of tsunami early warning systems have taken a multi-hazard approach, with multi-stakeholder involvement for providing inputs and feedback, and early warning integration into broader disaster risk reduction and development, and regional resource sharing among the sustainability strategies.
Currently, meteorological and environmental observations are shared globally through WMO’s Global Telecommunication System, as well as through its Global Observing Systems Information Center one-stop web-based portal. Other global data centers, such as the Global Precipitation Climatology Center and Global Runoff Data Center in Germany, share station and gridded datasets under cooperative agreements with WMO or with NMHSs. Data shared through these channels, however, are only from select stations in the countries. Data assimilation for improving forecasts and, consequently, warnings, require local data at the area of interest. Recognizing this, RIMES Member States agreed to establish a data sharing mechanism, and included this as a priority area in its Master Plan 2010-2014.
In a recent visit to RIMES Program Unit by WMO’s Director of Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Services, it was agreed that WMO shall assist RIMES in this endeavor by providing guidelines and data format standards, and that RIMES shall link its efforts with WMO’s Regional Climate Centres, which are currently being developed for maintaining regional climate data banks.
This project is proposed to build tsunami risk assessment capacities in Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand; and develop a regional data sharing policy for RIMES Member States and collaborating countries.
During the development of RIMES Master Plan 2010-2014, RIMES Member States and collaborating countries agreed to address gaps in tsunami risk assessment capacity. Specifically, Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam, Kenya, Mozambique, Seychelles, and Tanzania requested for capacity building in tsunami inundation modeling and risk evaluation, including the generation of the required high-resolution dataset. The countries noted the tsunami risk assessment capacity developed within RIMES Program Unit and the tools that it developed and tested. These include a low-cost methodology for near-shore bathymetric, topographic, and exposure surveys, and a computer-based tsunami propagation and inundation risk assessment tool, named INSPIRE, which calculates and maps tsunami travel time, amplitude, and current velocity, and probabilities of human death and building damage. The countries further noted the utility of INSPIRE in areas having lower resolution dataset, as it allows four levels of analysis according to the accuracy of input data. This would enable preliminary risk assessments utilizing available data, while resources to generate high-resolution data in other high-risk areas are not yet available. The countries also noted, during the fourth RIMES Council meeting in February 2011, RIMES efforts in developing a computer-based tool that integrates INSPIRE outputs into evacuation planning. This tool, named ESCAPE, calculates and maps the fastest evacuation route, taking into consideration decelerating factors, such as land use, water dynamics, etc..
RIMES shall demonstrate the functions and use of these tools in aiding tsunami warning and improving preparedness and response in Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were selected from the Indian Ocean countries, while Philippines from the South China Sea countries. Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were the project countries for TTF-07; hence, partnerships necessary for the proposed project have been established. Also, under the TTF-07 project, preliminary tsunami risk assessments have been undertaken in select sites in Philippines and Sri Lanka, making best use of available data. The proposed project shall refine the risk maps produced in these sites, using survey data. Myanmar and Sri Lanka are also TTF-16 project countries; the proposed project shall add a multi-hazard dimension to local level activities in these countries. Furthermore, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Thailand represent countries of differing degree in risk assessment capabilities, from least to more capable, in terms of technical and human resource capacities. Engagement in Myanmar shall aim to build basic tsunami risk assessment capacity; in Sri Lanka to enhance existing capacity; in the Philippines, to offer low-cost methodology and robust tools, noting the large area exposed to tsunamigenic sources that require risk mapping; and in Thailand to provide science-based tools for risk and evacuation mapping, in response to request from the Ministry of Interior.
Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Philippines shall receive the full suite of training programs proposed under this project, while focus in Thailand shall be on INSPIRE and ESCAPE. Thailand’s Hydrographic Department of the Royal Thai Navy (HDRTN) and the Royal Thai Survey Department (RTSD) are well resourced in undertaking bathymetric and topographic surveys. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the HDRTN, on one hand, focused on re-survey of 16 areas along the west coast of Thailand, from Ranong to Satun provinces . The HDRTN is equipped with modern equipment, such as multi-beam echosounders, side-scan sonar, and high accuracy GPS/DGPS, survey boats and multi-purpose vessel for hydrographic survey, and trained and experienced technical staff . The RTSD, on the other hand, focused on production of aerial photographs of the affected areas and conducted GPS network adjustment to rectify deformations caused by the tsunamigenic mega-thrust earthquake . The RTSD continually develops its GPS network and updates geographic details of a location every 5 years, using aerial photography and satellite images from SPOT5 and SRTM DTED 2 . Also, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a government agency-academe team conducted a detailed building survey of the affected area, and archived survey results in a database. Products of these efforts after the 2004 tsunami were used by RIMES in validating the low-cost survey methodologies for near-shore bathymetric, topographic, and exposure surveys.
Participating countries in the RIMES Council meeting in February 2011 emphasized the need for regional data sharing and regional interaction of forecasters during a tropical cyclone event to improve warning information generation, provision, and utilization in planning and decision-making.