In the aftermath of the Friday earthquake and ensuing tsunami that destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 1,200 people on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, officials are beginning to sort out what went wrong with the country’s early warning system for tsunami detection.
Indonesia’s system, completed in 2008, consists of seismographic sensors, buoys, tidal gauges and GPS. None of these measures were able to adequately predict the scale of Friday’s tsunami, which reached heights of 20 feet in the city of Palu, south of the earthquake’s epicenter.
Other shortfalls of the warning system in Sulawesi may have contributed to the tsunami’s toll. Some criticism centers on the lack of sirens to warn residents of oncoming waves and shelters on higher ground to accommodate evacuees. Despite the risk of frequent tsunamis up and down the Sulawesi coast, little of this infrastructure exists in Palu.
“We really need to emphasize that the earthquake is the warning. If the shaking lasts at least 20 seconds, get to high ground,” said Dr. Jason Patton, a geophysicist who works for Temblor, a consulting firm, and teaches at Humboldt State University in California.