Thursday, January 24, 2008

NDWC to install more tsunami-warning buoys

PHUKET CITY: The National Disaster Warning Center (NDWC) has finally received 165 million baht from the central government to install two more tsunami-warning buoys in the Andaman Sea. They are to be installed by the middle of this year, NDWC Director Dr Smith Dharmasaroja told a conference in Phuket City on January 21.

The conference, at the Royal Phuket City Hotel from January 21 to 24, was held to simultaneously update a total of 77 key figures in the region.

At the seminar were Phuket Vice-Governor Tri Augkaradacha, the directors of 24 schools in Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi, Ranong, Trang, and Satun, as well as officers from Phuket office of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM – Phuket), the Provincial Fisheries Office, Phuket Provincial Education Office, the NDWC and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

Dr Smith confirmed that the budget was approved the day before the seminar, on January 20.

“The two buoys will be about 250 to 300 kilometers from Phuket, much closer to shore than the one already installed, which is about 1,000 kilometers from the coast. They will give us better and faster information than the old buoy; the Meteorological Department will be responsible for making sure they are functioning,” explained Dr Smith.

“The buoys will confirm whether or not a tsunami is approaching, and will be critical in making the decision whether or not to issue a tsunami warning,” he added.

Dr Smith called for the buoys to be installed quickly. “We have to hurry because there have been many earthquakes in the region. We have to open the bidding for contractors to build and install the buoys very soon,” he said.

He also expressed concern about the system of warning towers throughout the six tsunami-affected provinces. “Many areas still need more warning towers and some islands still do not have any warning towers at all. But it’s difficult for us to do anything now because we have to ask for more budget from the government, although we have received many requests from Krabi, Phang Nga and Ranong provinces for more warning towers,” he said.

“I still worry for villages that are far from high ground. They should have tall buildings for tsunami shelters. We now have the budget to build four tsunami shelters this year, but we have yet to begin construction.

“Koh Phi Phi Don has only one tsunami shelter. I think that’s not enough because there are many tourists on the island, and don’t forget what we owe to tourism,” he warned.

“Currently, we have only 79 warning towers in the six Andaman provinces. It’s not enough because many danger areas are still isolated.

“Also, Patong has only three towers and they are not loud. Patong should have five towers. If we have more towers, we will not have problems with people not hearing the warning. We are also currently improving the language used in the warning,” he said.

However, Dr Smith warned, “I’m not satisfied with warning tests. It’s not good enough. We should hold tests more often and not warn people that a test will be held.

Key organizations and figures, such as the Ministry of Interior and local leaders, must develop evacuation routes, he added.

“We will inform people of the warning system through TV and through public notices in tourist areas. People in risk areas should be warned as soon as possible and be able to react quickly,” he said.

Dr Smith repeated his call for the NDWC to be an independent body. “Our problem is that we have only a few officers and our organization is not an independent entity. Some of our executives are from other government sectors. We will appeal to the new government to pass a law to make us an independent entity.

“The NDWC is already recognized by various nations about our duty, service and ability. I want all people in the six Andaman provinces to trust our system and I urge them to follow instructions from officers when we conduct our [tsunami-warning] tests,” he said.

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