Countries such as Indonesia passed a critical test after its tsunami alert system successfully alerted citizens following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2004, as well as yesterday's disaster.
"The simple message is that in any critical condition like this it's impossible to get everyone out in time." Reuters quoted Keith Loveard chief risk analyst at a Jakarta security firm, Concord Consulting. "The tsunami alert system worked to a degree. While awareness has improved, reinforced by 2004, it still needs to get better through public education and government campaigns." Loveard went on to say. The system is comprised of seismographic stations and sensors deep below the Indian Ocean. When an earthquake occurs data is sent to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes, according to Reuters for the data to be analyzed and sent to governments around the Indian Ocean at which time they can issue an alert.
In Indonesia warnings are delivered in a number of ways, by radio, television, text messages as well as over loudspeakers in Mosques.
In 2004 no such alert system existed the current system was activated in late June of 2006. After Wednesday's earthquake officials in Sri Lanka according to Reuters literally pressed a button which alerted 75 alert towers in Colombo, three million then were able to take shelter on higher ground away from the seashore.
In Thailand evacuation routes are clearly marked and the county has buoys in the ocean to monitor tides as well as sirens to alert citizens.
Bhopinder Singh the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands had just wrapped up a disaster preparedness meeting only 30 minutes before the the earthquake. Reuters reported some 2,000 people evacuated from the shores of Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Wednesday.
Aceh province in Indonesia suffered some damage to buildings including a prison, a disaster agency official told Reuters that the alert sounded in Aceh half an hour after the earthquake hit. The official told Reuters a power outage and fear led to the delay in alerting the area. "We understand that the ideal is to warn people of a tsunami five to 10 minutes after a quake. I wished we could have. The power was cut completely and the operators were too scared to turn on the backup power because we saw wires dangling in the street. We decided to turn on the siren in the end."
Five people died in Indonesia, two from heart attacks during the earthquake.