Thursday, January 22, 2009
Indonesia starts up a tsunami early warning system—made with German, not Hawaii assistance
by Larry Geller
Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle led a delegation to Indonesia in June 2007 to provide assistance to the Indonesian military and to discuss emergency preparedness. Indonesia, after its devastating loss of 120-150,000 lives in 2004, needed to improve both its detection of tsunamis and its ability to rapidly communicate a warning to its people.
There are plenty of good reasons why Hawaii should have nothing to do with the murderous Indonesian military, but the trip was promoted as a disaster assistance mission, and that made it kosher.
As noted in a June 13, 2007 article, although our local media accepted the administration description of Lingle’s trip as primarily to provide disaster preparedness assistance, the overseas press put military cooperation first and disaster preparedness as a second objective. Lingle was reported to have agreed to cooperate with military helicopter repairs. Those helicopters could be used by the military for any purpose, including further atrocities against its own people.
I don’t doubt that some valuable help was given, but like many things we do here (for example, providing our own people with alternative energy, safe dams, roads, etc.), it appears to have been inadequate (do we have all the sirens working yet on Oahu??).
Indonesia did indeed put in a tsunami detection system and work to improve their communications. They got help, both technical and financial, not from Hawaii—but from Germany.
The current issue of IEEE Spectrum describes their spiffy new system in an article, Tsunami Alert System Starts Up in Indonesia:
Indonesia has switched on a tsunami detection system designed to prevent a recurrence of the disaster following the monstrous wave of 2004, which killed at least 130 000 of its people and nearly half that many in other countries.
The detection system uses ocean-floor devices that measure changes in water pressure and surface buoys that both relay the information to a satellite network and add their own measurements of changes in sea level. Software then analyzes the data with algorithms calibrated to account for the depth of the water, the shape of the ocean floor, and other factors identified previously during simulations. By thus precalculating aspects of any conceivable tsunami, the system cuts the time it takes to recognize a killer wave. That time is critical, because most quakes in the Indian Ocean occur uncomfortably close to the Indonesian archipelago.
“You have to be very quick, because wherever the earthquake happens, [the tsunami] will hit the coastline in no more than 30 to 40 minutes,” says Jörn Lauterjung, of the German Research Centre for Geosciences, in Potsdam, which designed much of the system. “We had to develop new seismic analysis programs to reduce warning time from the 10 to 15 minutes that are usual worldwide to just 3 minutes.”
So Indonesia has taken care of its disaster preparedness needs.
Is Hawaii still going to assist with military helicopter repairs? We should not be in the business of enabling human rights abuses. The less we have to do with the Indonesian military, the better.
I hope that no state funds will be used, in any case. We can’t control what the Pacific Command does (they hold at least annual exercises with the Indonesians I believe), but we can make sure that in times of economic scarcity we look after ourselves first and the Indonesian military, never.
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