French review of the 11thsession of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in the North-eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean and connected seas

The 11th session of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami early Warning and Mitigation System in the North-Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean (ICG NEAMTWS) was held in Rome, Italy, from 19 to 21 November 2013, under the auspices of UNESCO. Seismologists, modelers, experts in tide gauging and civil safety as well as ministerial representatives got together in order to pursue the international cooperation around tsunami alerts in the Mediterranean basin and the North-East Atlantic. These seismic zones are concerned by this risk as evidenced by the historical inventories produced and the human suffering and material damaged identified during the course of the initial studies.

 

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Participating countries

Many countries on the Atlantic coast and bordering the Mediterranean and the Black Sea were represented. The participation of the countries of North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, was very valuable because it opens the way for better coordination with the countries south of the Mediterranean where the efforts will be concentrated in the coming years.

 

Progress in the technical implementation of the warning system

At the international level, the technical implementation of the warning system is progressing thanks to the work carried out by the member states and coordinated within four working groups dealing respectively with:

  • the detection and characterization of tsunamigenic seismic sources,
  • the generation of tsunami wave propagation models from the seismic source,
  • the monitoring in real time thanks to tide gauge stations of the arrival times of tsunamis on the coast,
  • and information for coastal communities via local and national public safety authorities.

 

France, one of the three countries with an operational tsunami warning center

Since 2012, three tsunami warning centers have been operational: France, (National Tsunami Warning Center hosted by the CEA) Greece and Turkey. Connected in real-time to the seismic and tidal stations operated and shared by member countries, the centers are able to process each seismic event and immediately send a warning message to the public safety authorities in countries at risk if the tsunami risk is high. The presence of a tsunami is then confirmed or refuted based on the tide gauge readings. Portugal and Italy are still in the process of establishing tsunami warning centers in their countries.

 

Accreditation system for tsunami warning centers established by the IOC

To ensure the legitimacy of these centers at the international level, the IOC has set up an accreditation system based on specific technical criteria (level of expertise, robustness, reaction time, etc.). The first three centers should be reviewed in 2014.

However, there is the problem of processing the multiple warning messages issued by the many different centers which may differ in terms of the initial calculation results, and the uncertainty, although minimized, can potentially result in a warning being issued or not depending on the method used. Future work will establish a procedure for compiling these messages by the public safety authorities. From a technical point of view, the European ASTARTE program will fund research on improving algorithms for rapid detection of seismic sources based on the first measurements recorded.

 

Tide gauges, key components of tsunami warning systems

Emphasis was placed on the importance of inventorying the tide gauge stations contributing to or likely to contribute in the near future to the warning system, especially for stations in North Africa that are not yet set up for real time transmission. In this respect, the transmission of water levels via the Global Telecommunication System (GTS) of the World Meteorological Organization via Meteosat weather satellites was strongly encouraged. To date, this is the simplest robust method for transmitting the measurements directly to all the warning centers permanently connected to the GTS, and also provides a valuable back-up system in case of wired Internet outages.

 

Report on the NEAMWAVE13 financial results

The meeting was also an opportunity to report on the NEAMWAVE13 finances. Although communications tests between warning centers and public safety authorities are carried out every month, a full-scale exercise based on a real scenario is organized every year. This exercise involves all stakeholders receiving and issuing warnings, including warning alert centers, national and regional public safety centers, firefighters, police stations and some public institutions organizing evacuation to higher ground.

In this respect, Spain this year announced its intention to establish a national unit, within the Spanish civil protection agency, to specifically deal with warning messages from neighboring centers to warn and protect its population.

 

Next meeting

Finally, the next Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in the North-eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean will be held in the Republic of Cyprus in late 2014 to report on the technical advances made during the coming year.

 

 

References

 

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