Scientists develop low-cost tsunami warning system that could help prevent future deaths


Updated

November 06, 2018 14:05:07

Adelaide scientists say they have successfully tested a simple, low-cost tsunami warning system in small villages in Vanuatu that could help save lives in regions vulnerable to natural disasters.

Key points:

  • Scientists say they have proven a new tsunami warning technology works
  • The system is 100 times cheaper than current warning systems, scientist says
  • It could be rolled out by the end of 2019 if funding is received

The system — which uses small receivers connected to airhorns — is said to be about 100 times cheaper than existing warning systems when ongoing costs are taken into account.

Some tsunami warnings could not be delivered during last month’s disaster in Indonesia that killed more than 1,300 people — and displaced hundreds of thousands more — because of damage to mobile networks.

Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen from Flinders University said the new technology did not involve large equipment that would likely to be damaged in a storm and his team had successfully tested it last month.

“We’re at the point now where we have proven all of the key pieces of the technology. What we need to do now, funding permitting, and this is always a challenge with these things, but we could have the prototype units ready for a pilot by the middle of 2019,” he said.

How does this system work?

Dr Gardner-Stephen explained that regular tsunami warning systems use towers that are expensive to buy, maintain, and require expert installation so only a small percentage of vulnerable communities have access to them.

He said the new technology used very small and low-cost receivers and did not employ a dish that would require careful calibration.

“What we’ve done in comparison is make something which is small, its gets a signal by satellite so it doesn’t matter what happens to the local cellular network … so we can provide for a village for about $200 instead of $10,000 with an effective tsunami and all-hazard warning system,” he said.

“It will also provide the village with a local radio station so that they can get news, weather, information to help to adapt to climate change, food security, water security, all manner of things that are of value to this community.”

He said the tsunami alert that had been tested in Vanuatu used a siren, which could be something as cheap as an airhorn.

“It only needs to be audible within a local village area,” he said.

“The old way is quite suitable for large industrialised cities where you want it to be heard for kilometres.

“Whereas in a rural village context in an Indo-Pacific region … we don’t need to have a really expensive piece of infrastructure.”

Could it help prevent future deaths?

Dr Gardner-Stephen said when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Palu on the central island of Sulawesi in Indonesia last month, the resulting tsunami struck eight minutes later, and killed at least 1,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

He said the earthquake knocked out the phone network so a warning couldn’t be sent out to villages.

“And of course in these remote villages … they may not have power to charge their phones so they may be kept off to conserve power except when they need to use them,” he said.

“So all these little remote communities that were away from the main population had absolutely no way of getting the alert.”

Dr Gardner-Stephen said a pilot of the new technology would cost around $500,000 and a rollout in a country like Vanuatu would probably cost around $2 million.

He said while costs would be significantly lower in the long run, funding was still the “only barrier” holding back a rollout of the technology.

“Our recent work in Vanuatu costs about 1 per cent of the investment required for conventional tsunami warning towers,” he said.

“We could potentially be rolling out within that region progressively from around the end of 2019.

“We’re not talking a great length of time, we’re not even talking a great financial cost to do that, but of course we have to find the partners.”

Topics:

disasters-and-accidents,

storm-disaster,

disaster-prevention,

science,

science-and-technology,

adelaide-5000,

sa,

vanuatu

First posted

November 06, 2018 14:02:40



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