December 31, 2004
Discussions of tsunami warning, or its lack, reflect the part that imagination, culture, initiative play in the crucial hours when fate's trajectory can be re-shaped.
The Wall Street Journal discusses how people know to discern the beginning of such disasters, and how to react. A humane goal is the concept of "tsunami-resilient communities," in addition to developing finer prediction instruments, and the political will to focus. A heartening example is
what happened in Vanuatu, in 1999. On Pentecost Island, a rather pristine enclave with no electricity or running water, the locals watch television once a week, when a pickup truck with a satellite dish, a VCR and a TV stops by each village. When the International Tsunami Survey Team visited days after the tsunami, they heard that the residents had watched a Unesco video prepared the year before, in the aftermath of the 1998 Papua New Guinea tsunami disaster. When they felt the ground shake during the 1999 earthquake, they ran to a hill nearby. The tsunami swept through, razing the village to the ground. Out of 500 people, only three died. (Link via Arts & Letters Daily.)
Lively intellectual curiosity and willing engagement with one's responsibilities, a state on the continuum with flow, is sometimes falsely thought to be a luxury, not a requirement. But without it, we fill a place only with emptiness, and deplete the vigor of those around us. It is a state of mind to be cultivated. We can't know when it will make the difference.
The International Herald Tribune prose dissolves at the end here, but the general ambience of the CNTBTO offices is discernable.
Early on Sunday morning, powerful computers in a Vienna office building received seismic data on the earthquake that spawned the devastating tsunamis across south Asia - information that might have saved lives in the hours between the quake and the waves hitting the coasts of Sri Lanka, India and several other countries.
But the data streaming into the computers of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization served no purpose Sunday.
The 300 staff are on vacation until Jan. 4. The organization itself is still nothing more than a nascent group of seismic experts and bureaucrats who await signature or ratification on the test ban treaty from 11 more countries before they can officially act.
The organization uses a vast network of scientific equipment set up to monitor nuclear explosions, but as fine a measure of nature's force as devised by the humans who have proven so powerless before it.
What will the estimate be by January 4?
Inspiration to stay awake. Service and survival depend on it, without warning. Crisis and opportunity, thieves in the night. Nobody knows which night.
There is no per se blame in being en masse on vacation, even though the organization's budget is reputed to be $100 million annually. Tim Blair and comments discuss parallel associated monitoring organizations, that sound more pointed and consistent in their oversight. The point is not finger-pointing, but what we notice about performance from which we can learn for the future. A question suitable always for New Year's meditation.
More, from India Daily, on communication,
United States Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could see it. But they did not know whom to contact. Indian Space Research Organization recorded the waves when it came on the surface of the sea but no one programmed the system to warn any one. The earthquake and Tsunami hit Sumatra hours before hitting Sri Lanka and India but no one cared to notify the authorities in those countries.
including the problem of evacuation and other radical intervention measures based on false positives.