Certain countries in the Caribbean are implementing an advanced communications system called Common Alerting Protocols (CAP), which allows automatic, multimedia distribution of information in the case of tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters, Bernardo Aliaga, a tsunami specialist with the UN educational, scientific and cultural organization (Unesco), told BNamericas.
"It's a server that has a modem for distributing fax, text messages, emails, messages via radio and even via satellite phones. That's the most advanced technology there is in terms of alert and emergency distribution systems," Aliaga said.
Given that this system can run over a broad range of media, it is designed as a failsafe in case traditional communications networks are down.
Unesco announced Thursday (Mar 17) that some 33 countries are preparing to participate in a March 23 simulated tsunami alert exercise in the Caribbean. The goal is to test an alert system called the Tsunami and other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions.
Aliaga said the tsunami exercise has been at the planning stage for more than a year, but the tsunami in Japan pushed authorities to test it now.
Participating countries will receive an alert concerning a fictitious earthquake of magnitude-7.6 off the coast of the American Virgin Islands.
Bulletins will be issued by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Ewa Beach (Hawaii) for the rest of the area.
The exercise, named Caribe Wave 11, aims to test the effectiveness of alert, monitoring and warning systems among all the emergency management organizations - weather forecast offices, national coast guard, etc - throughout the region.
Messages are sent from the Global Telecommunications System, a meteorological network that runs over a range of satellite networks.
Also used is the ASTN network for airports. The regional warning centers call the local centers closest to the affected area to confirm that the messages have been received.
Then it is up to each country to see how they distribute the information to the government and the population. The CAP system is one alternative.
STILL WORK TO DO
According to Aliaga, Latin American countries have advanced quite a bit, particularly Chile, in educating the population on how to react in the event of a tsunami.
However, there is still a lot of work to do as regards geographical planning of "critical facilities" such as hospitals, fuel distribution areas and energy plants, keeping in mind the current crisis with Japan's nuclear plants.
"The challenge for us is to use science to determine which are the most dangerous zones that have traditionally been flooded by tsunamis and, in those areas, be careful where we locate schools, hospitals and critical facilities like oil pipelines, nuclear plants, electric power cables," Aliaga said.
"There is still some work to be done in that regard on the South American Pacific coast," he said.