President Launches Tsunami Warning System

JAKARTA ~ President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched a high-tech tsunami warning system this week in a bid to prevent a repeat of tragedies like the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed around 170,000 people in the archipelago.

The Rp1.4-trillion (US$130.2-million) system will be able to detect an earthquake at sea and predict within five minutes whether it could cause a tsunami, the head of the Geophysics and Meteorology Agency, Sri Woro Harijono, said.

“The warning system can also predict the height and arrival time of the waves,” Harijono said. The system uses a series of four buoys linked to monitoring stations across the country.

The system, built with German technology and funding from a number of foreign nations, will eventually include 23 to 24 buoys, she said.

Yudhoyono said at the launch on Tuesday that Indonesia needed the warning system, given the frequency of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis across its 17,000 seismically active islands.

“We are living on the edge. Three tectonic plates – the Eurasian, Indo-Australian and Pacific – meet here,” the president said. “This kind of disaster can strike at any time.”

The series of buoys that are the backbone of the warning system are linked by cables to detectors that sit on the ocean floor and pick up on the deep-sea earthquakes that cause tsunamis.

The signals are then relayed to stations that send out an automated warning that a tsunami is coming.

Foreign donor countries will supervise the operation of the tsunami warning system for the first two years as it gets up and running, said Jan Sopaheluwakan from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

“After 2010, Indonesia will take full responsibility for running the system,” Sopaheluwakan said.

Indonesia was the country worst hit by the earthquake-triggered 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed 168,000 in the country’s Aceh province.

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