[LINK] Tsunami warning system dangerous lack of standards

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Wed Oct 29 09:34:12 EST 2008

Exercise Pacific Wave 08 is currently taking place across the 
Pacific  to test tsunami warning systems, including the Joint 
Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC). There is a carefully 
scripted list of events scheduled at specific times in a detailed 132 
page Exercise Pacific Wave 08 Technical Bulletin 

However, while the exercise has been meretriciously planned, there is 
no standard international format for tsunami warning messages. The 
formats used for tsunami warnings predate the Internet and were 
designed for being issued using devices such as Teletype machines. As 
a result there are incompatibilities between the formats and Internet 
technology which could cause dangerous miscommunication. In addition 
there is no rigorously defined format for messages.

As an example the Pacific Wave 08 exercise materials are supposed to 
be marked "Exercise Pacific Wave 08" and "For Exercise Purposes 
Only". But, only the first two of the supplied exercise messages 
include the text "Exercise Pacific Wave 08" and none of the messages 
include "For Exercise Purposes Only". Such imprecision can cause 
dangerous confusion, with the exercise messages being mistaken for 
real ones and real messages for exercises.

International tsunami authorities need to agree one standard format 
for tsunami messages which has a precisely defined format and wording 
and is compatible both with the Internet and backward compatible with 
older communication devices. Failure to do so could result in the 
loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

More in my blog at: 

Tom Worthington FACS HLM tom.worthington at tomw.net.au Ph: 0419 496150
Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd            ABN: 17 088 714 309
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617                      http://www.tomw.net.au/
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Australian National University 

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