Indian Ocean kicks off biennial tsunami simulation amid COVID-19 disruptions

The IOWave20 exercise will test national tsunami warning systems and preparedness protocols against three possible scenarios in which earthquakes at various points in the region could send giant waves traveling across the ocean basin in the direction of the region’s vulnerable coastal communities.

Indian Ocean “Wave” exercises are held every two years under the auspices and coordination of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Intergovernmental Coordination Group of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTMWS) and the Indian Ocean Information Centre (IOTIC).

For IOWave20, the scenarios include earthquakes with epicentres in the Java trench on 6 October, Andaman trench on 13 October, and Makran trench on 20 October. For each scenario, the region’s Tsunami Service Providers – national institutions who act as providers of alerts and early warning information for a number of subscribed countries in the Indian Ocean region – will issue four tsunami bulletins in real-time over a one-hour duration.

These scenarios enable countries in the region to review their national tsunami response procedures, plans and policies to account for the occurrence of a tsunami or other natural disaster, test communications protocols and conduct a “virtual” tabletop exercise, as a minimum, to assess organisational Standard Operating Procedures, plans and policies for tsunami warning and emergency response.

All this in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sanitary situation has already reduced the scale of the IOWave20 relative to previous exercises, with each country individually assessing the health risks to determine the appropriate level of participation in the simulation exercise while ensuring no interference with physical distancing measures already in place.

To continue shielding their population from the risk of tsunamis and other ocean hazards amid the pandemic, national decision-makers can rely, among other tools, on UNESCO’s Guidelines for adapting Tsunami Warning Services, Evacuation and Sheltering during COVID-19, released earlier this year in several versions adapted to the regional realities and needs. The general guidelines for the Indian Ocean were also complemented by a national guide for Indonesia.

Tsunamis and other natural disasters (i.e. cyclones, floods, fires, etc.) can occur at any time, even during a pandemic, requiring governments and emergency responders to be prepared to make quick and informed decisions on community evacuations within a context of social distancing.

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