Tsunami warning system test discloses communication flaws

The first full-scale test of the tsunami warning system in the Caribbean has highlighted the need to reinforce preparations as well as improve communication, evacuation plans and the role of the private sector, the United Nations said Friday.

The simulated tsunami alert, dubbed Caribe Wave 2011, was carried out Wednesday and involved 34 countries. Under the test scenario, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake was signaled off the coast of the Virgin Islands, which generated a tsunami with waves reaching of up to 10 meters.

The exercise tested the Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions, which was set up in 2005 under the aegis of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The exercise highlighted a number of gaps in the transmission of information, UNESCO said in a news release, noting that in several areas, the message was not received by the Global Telecommunications System.

In other cases, reception of messages via the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network failed. At national levels only a few mobile telephone operators joined the exercise.

Populations and media throughout the region keenly followed the exercise, which also allowed for an evaluation of evacuation plans and the role of the private sector in the case of a catastrophe, the agency added.

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