Tsunami Warnings

We've all seen the horrible news showing the Indian Ocean tsunami damage. I made my contribution to the Red Cross, and I hope you have too.

Now, I have a question about this that's been bugging me for two weeks now. They say the Indian Ocean, unlike the Pacific Ocean, does not have a formal tsunami warning system, and that's why nobody was prepared.

That sounds like a cop out to me. It is common knowledge among scientists that a large earthquake in the ocean will almost certainly create a tsunami. Warning system or not, the earthquake was detected by scientists in the region, and its offshore location determined fairly quickly. Did none of these scientists consider that a tsunami might follow? Did they try to contact the authorities? They didn't need a formal tsunami warning system to get the word out. All they needed to do was contact radio and TV stations, and direct local police to warn people away from the beaches.

Back in the mid '60s, long before the Pacific Ocean had a warning system, my family was having a picnic at Stewart's Cove with some friends. A California State Parks ranger came by to evacuate the beach because a "tidal wave," as tsunamis were then called, was anticipated. My sister and her friend heard the message first, as they had walked to the Carmel River Beach parking lot where the ranger made the first announcement. I still remember seeing them running back with panic in their eyes shouting "There's a tidal wave coming!"

Of all the countries that were hit last month, why didn't authorities in even one of them make the connection between the earthquake and the potential for a tsunami? I've only seen one news organization attempt to answer this question, MSNBC spend a fair amount of time asking it last week, but no satisfactory answers were forthcoming. Another report indicated that Thailand's official policy was to issue a tsunami warning whenever there was an offshore earthquake exceeding 8.0. But for some reason, they didn't implement their own policy.

By the way, the tidal wave we were warned about at Carmel River Beach never materialized. But at least we were ready in case it did. In the last 20 years, I have heard two more similar warnings, neither of which amounted to anything, though I think one did raise local ocean levels a couple feet for a brief time.


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