India's Tsunami Early Warning System Protects Millions of Lives and Serves 25 Countries in the Indian Ocean
April 8, 2011 • 11:07AM

After the Dec. 26, 2004 earthquake, and the tsunami that followed, had taken 229,866 lives, of which 10,881 were Indian causalities (and more than 5,792 missing), the Government of India established the Tsunami Early Warning System (EWS) in 2005 at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS). The system at INCOIS became a full-fledged 24/7 operational early warning system in October 2007.

The $25 million tsunami warning center at the INCOIS, located in Hyderabad, encountered 25-30 major earthquakes in the last three years. ``So far we are 100 percent right and have not issued any false alert,'' INCOIS director Sateesh Shenoi told the Indian media recently. India did not face any threat from the M 8.9 earthquake in Japan even though the scientists at the center were monitoring the ocean waves 'round-the-clock.

``We are monitoring everything from Philippines to Hawaii and were in touch with other tsunami warning centres around the globe since 2007,'' said Shailesh Naik, secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, who was INCOIS director when the Indian system was being built. The data for the Indian system is being fed by a network of four bottom pressure recorders placed on sea beds and a network 50 tidal gauges, maintained by the Survey of India and National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in Chennai. Eight more bottom pressure recorders are scheduled to be installed.

The EWS was designed to work as stand alone as well as a component of a regionally integrated warning system. Present direction of the EWS evolution is towards a globally integrated system called ``System of Systems.'' The underlying principle of the EWS is to monitor earthquakes in real-time, around the globe. Since its establishment, 16 earthquake events of magnitude greater than 6.5 have occurred in the Indian Ocean for which timely ``No threat bulletins'' were issued for the Indian coast, thus avoiding unnecessary evacuation, as well as associated economic losses.

In setting up the system, a vulnerability assessment of India's entire coastline was conducted to generate what is known as Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI). The CVI uses historical shoreline erosion and satellite data to assess the vulnerability in a geospatial medium. The CVI was further extended to include multiple hazards, called Multi-Hazard Vulnerability Mapping (MHVM), which incorporates various risk factors like storm surges, as well as social and economic vulnerability factors.