Indian Ocean Tsunami: Why did the Information Not Get Out?
One of the most destructive and powerful earthquakes in recorded history, more than a quarter of a million recorded deaths, local economies destroyed, the lives of entire communities shattered, and no serious investigation into the flaws of the global seismic warning system is contemplated.
According to Columbia University’s Earth Institute the M-9.0 Sumatra – Andaman Island earthquake on December 26th released energy, equivalent roughly to 700 million Hiroshima bombs.
Seismic information regarding what scientists identify as a “rare great earthquake”, was available in near real time (i.e. almost immediately) to seismic centers around the World.
Other types of data, including satellite imagery were also available in near real time.
The advanced global seismic information and communications systems were fully operational.
Why then, did the information not get out on the morning of December 26th?
Ten of thousands of lives could have been saved.
The issue has been skirted by the Western media, sidestepped by the governments and the UN, not to mention the international scientific community.
What Happened on the Morning of December 26th?
The tsunami was triggered within minutes of the earthquake, prior to the release of the first tsunami advisory bulletin by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Hawaii, so it was no longer a question of emitting “a warning” of an imminent danger. The catastrophe had already happened.
In other words, by the time the first tsunami bulletin had been issued at 01.14 GMT, the deadly seismic wave was already sweeping Banda, the capital of Aceh province in Northern Sumatra, causing thousands of deaths.
This ex post facto bulletin emitted by the PTWC, did not even warn of the potential danger of a tsunami. Moreover, it casually dismissed an established and scientifically accepted relationship:
“If it were a 9 earthquake … with the thrusting in an ocean basin margin, the likelihood is almost 1:1 that it would generate a tsunami” (Dr. Charles Groat, Director, US Geological Survey in testimony to the Science Committee of the US House of Representatives, 26 Jan 2005).
Tip of the Iceberg
The PTWC bulletins are but the tip of the iceberg. The information on the quake was known and available in real time, to an entire network of seismic organizations.
It was also on hand and accessible to a number of government agencies both in the US and internationally, almost immediately. Numerous officials, scientists, members of the military and intelligence services, had advanced knowledge of an impending disaster.
In other words, we are not dealing with the failures of a single warning Center in Ewo, Hawaii, but with an entire Worldwide network of seismic information, satellite imagery and other sophisticated data, which was available almost immediately.
Who informs Whom?
The question is not why the PTWC did not emit a tsunami warning, but why did an entire global network of scientists and officials not emit a warning, in relation to one of the largest quakes in recorded history.
While the PTWC had indeed formally notified Washington and the Military at the Diego Garcia island base, the US government and military already knew, because the seismic data had been processed within minutes by an agency under the jurisdiction of the US Department of the Interior, namely the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) based in Golden, Colorado.
The data regarding the magnitude of the earthquake originated from four seismic stations located in the Indian Ocean, operated by the International Deployment of Accelerometers (IDA) Project .
“Received signals three minutes, thirty seconds after the quake began”
In testimony to the US Congress (Jan 26, 2005), Scripps (SIO) Deputy-Director John Orcutt which overseas the Indian Ocean IDA seismic stations confirmed that on December 26, the data pertaining to the Sumatra-Andaman quake had been “immediately and automatically forwarded by computer to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) in Golden, Colorado and the NOAA tsunami warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska”
The US Military Base at Diego Garcia
The first news reports underscored the fact that the US military base at Diego Garcia had been given advanced warning, but that the information reached military officials at the US island naval base “after” the tsunami had hit India and Sri Lanka:
”An NOAA log shows that the US Pacific Command, including Diego Garcia, was given a specific warning about the tsunami some two and three quarter hours after the earthquake” (The Guardian, 7 Jan 2005)
These earlier reports must be qualified. The fact of the matter, is that the data concerning the earthquake originated from monitoring stations situated in the Indian Ocean, including the The IDA/IRIS seismic station DGAR (Diego Garcia) seismic station located directly on the site of the US island military base.
Moreover, in addition to the IDA/IRIS stations, the International Monitoring System (IMS) of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) based in Vienna, operates several stations in the Indian Ocean region, three of which are located in the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory). Two of these stations are situated directly on the site of the US military base.
There are in all four monitoring stations in the Chagos archipelago, which use the communications system of the US military base.
In other words, the US military base at Diego Garcia , with its advanced monitoring facilities, research labs, etc. was not the “recipient” but rather “the source” of the relevant data regarding the earthquake.
Satellite Imagery transmitted in Real Time
In addition to real time seismic data (as well as hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide data transmitted out of Diego Garcia), satellite images of the disaster on the North Sumatra coastline were also available in near real time to a number of agencies and international organizations.
The US has an advanced “spy satellite” system, with very precise capabilities of monitoring the terrain, including changes in the natural environment, not to mention moving objects. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which was responsible for launching the first spy satellites of the Cold War era operates a sophisticated system of reconnaissance satellites, which transmit imagery and other data in real time.
Another key US body, involved in satellite imagery is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, (NGA) , formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The latter was in fact the architect of the global positioning system (GPS), which was conducive to creating a system of global geospatial intelligence (GEOINT).
NGA is part of the US defense system, it serves the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. It has very precise capabilities of monitoring the geographic and physical terrain by satellite, all over the world, using the techniques of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT).
In other words, state of the art satellite imagery (available to military, intelligence, civilian as well as private commercial entities) provides “a real time set of eyes”. With regard, to the M-9.0 tsunami of December 26, satellite images were available almost immediately. The US military confirms in this regard, that it has access from its satellite systems “to vital intelligence in real time”. These real time images were used extensively in the Iraq and Afghan war theaters. (Hearings of Sen Armed Services Committee, 25 Feb 2004).
The Role of the European Space Agency
Real time seismic and other data (including satellite imagery) were also available to a number of countries including Russia, China, Japan and the European Union.
In this regard, The European Space Agency (ESA ), which has links to NOAA, has “multi-sensor access” in real time to data from satellites including very precise imagery which allows:
,em>”for complete large-scale phenomena to be observed to an accuracy and entirety it would take an army of ground level observers to match”
In addition to imagery, the satellite transmits other relevant data which measures very accurately “ground motion” and “sea height”:
While “before” and “after” images of the disaster have been made public, the images which show the progress and movement of the tsunami, in the period immediately following the earth quake have not been released.
Concluding Remarks: The Need for an Investigation into the Warning System
More than a quarter of million people have died in one of the World’s most devastating natural disasters.
The overriding issues pertaining to the warning / information systems, cannot be drowned or brushed aside. They must be the object of a full-fledged inquiry, preferably by an independent body.
This report has outlined a number of broad issues pertaining to the global information network. The latter requires detailed examination in the context of full-fledged inquiry.
What agencies in the US, the European Union, in the Indian Ocean countries and internationally were informed? The failures are by no means limited to the US seismic network.
When were they informed? What type of data did they have? Some of that data has not been released.
Why did the information not reach the people on time in the countries affected by the tsunami?
What factors, administrative, scientific or otherwise, contributed to preventing the information from being transmitted?
We are not dealing strictly with seismic data. Satellite images of the devastation in Northern Sumatra were also available. Other types of data were also transmitted in near real time by satellite.
The approximate speed of the seismic wave was known and confirmed. According to the news reports, the tsunami was moving at a speed of roughly 20 km a minute (on average) in relation to Sri Lanka.
The seismic information was known to the NEIC and other seismic centers within less than four minutes after the quake.
The tsunami hit the Indonesian coast within 5 minutes, in other words 10 minutes before the release of the first TPWC bulletin. Banda Aceh was hit by the tsunami 11 minutes after the earthquake, approximately 3 minutes before the release of the TPWC bulletin.
In other words, it was possible to predict in a very precise way, at what time the seismic wave would hit the coastlines of Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, The Maldives and Somalia. Had this information been transmitted in a consistent fashion, there would have been ample time to evacuate people from the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, India, not to mention the East coast of Africa.
There are no Ocean sensors in the Indian Ocean. But this was not the cause of the failures and omissions in the warning system.
The tsunami became active immediately following the earthquake. No warnings were sent out following the seismic readings despite the fact that the tsunami had already hit the Indonesian coast.
This is the key issue.
The Tsunami was active, and this was known, corroborated not only by seismic information but also by satellite images and other data, roughly 30 minutes prior to hitting Thailand.