National tsunami warning centres need strengthening

National tsunami warning systems in Pacific states need to be strengthened, the head of Tonga's meteorological service has said. 

Only some countries have the capacity to monitor tsunamis in the Pacific, ‘Ofa Fa’anunu, who was in Apia this week for a meteorology summit, said.

“What we’ve have done in the last four years is we’ve worked with other countries around the Pacific rim to develop two things - guidance on how to deal with local tsunami, which is usually a tsunami that you don’t have time to issue an official warning because it’s so quick," said Mr Fa’anunu.

In addition to his national role, Mr Fa’anunu is also the vice-chairman for UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (I.O.C.) Intergovernmental Co-ordination Group of Pacific Tsunami Warning System.

“So we have a version one of this best practice and a framework that’s been developed on the competency and ability of that watch keeper [or] staff on duty that he’s able to respond to an event properly," he said. 

“The next stage is for the countries to take it and implement it in their procedures, run drills and exercises.”

He said this framework was approved by the I.O.C. in March this year, and Tonga is the first country that will conduct a training course on these capabilities in October. 

“We have to work with this version one, and see what needs to be changed. We will have to go through these processes in the next few years before we can be comfortable to finalise that this is the solution for everybody to use," he said.

“As a working group this is what we have established as a tool for the Pacific to work on developing their national tsunami warnings.” 

Mr. Fa’anunu said this work is necessary given that tsunami warning for the Pacific are supposed to be delivered by national tsunami warning authorities and met service.

Traditionally the Pacific tsunami warning center in Hawaii has been providing these warnings for the Pacific Islands for about 40 years, but that has stopped in October 2014. 

“So it’s the responsibility of every country now in the Pacific to issue their warnings. So what the Warning Center gives us now are advisories.”

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