The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office (DDPM) got nearly everything right in their response to the false alarm issued by three tsunami warning towers in Phuket earlier this week.
Local officials were explaining to the public what had happened in the early morning news, and a full explanation of what was being done had been posted by the national DDPM branch by 3:21pm that day.
The full explanation omitted nothing. Initial inspections of the towers had already indicated that the problem was not local, and the towers were fully inspected and checked by technicians the next day. The fact that 25 disaster warning towers in 14 provinces, including five in Chon Buri as well as one each in widely separated provinces such as Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Nong Bua Lam Phu and even Chiang Rai – was testament to the fact the the problem was somewhere in the national system.
The DDPM explained that the system for issuing disaster warnings from the National Disaster Warning Center is a “double encrypted system”, and it takes an officer to actually press a button to get any towers to sound any sirens. No officer had not sent any signals to any towers to sound their sirens. The problem so far is considered an anomaly, and is being treated seriously.
The DDPM was honest in its message to the public; they had no idea what had caused the malfunction. Literally calling the cause as an “unknown reason”, they even explained their next steps in their continuing investigations in the hope of determining the cause.
Compared with how some Thai government agencies respond publicly to critical issues, the response by the DDPM so far has been first class.
What was not handled so well was the repeated message of the importance of informing tourists of what had happened to inspire confidence in their safety. For that to happen tourists must be informed by the relevant authority in clear English, or other native tongue. Tourists do not speak Thai.
In the heat of the moment, at 3:43am Thursday (Apr 27), the most reassuring factor any tourists would have been presented with was the fact that the hotel staff were still standing in front of them, and not running for the nearest hill.
Local officials going on Thai radio to explain what had happened only means that the tourists will get the message second or third hand. By the time the news cycle finally got the news out to non-Thai speakers, the issue was of image damage control, not safety.
The only other factor overlooked by all officials in responding to the false alarm was that while they were calling on people to not panic, they did not say exactly what people should do if the warning towers sound their alarm again.
The obvious answer is to treat all warnings as such, and take immediate appropriate action, namely evacuate risk areas as quickly as safely possible. But those words were never mentioned, in spoken or written reports. As simple as it is, this is a must if anyone is to try to instill confidence in our tsunami warning system.
In the meantime, the best warning any non-Thai-speaking person will have is to pay attention to what local people are doing, and do the same.
Kurt | 02 May 2023 - 09:08:33