» Television, Commercial Radio, Marine Radio
Commercial television (both local and cable), commercial radio, and marine radio should be used to send out warning and watch messages. To use television and commercial radio, agreements need to be made with the radio stations and local and cable television stations to allow an override when information needs to be broadcasted. Using marine radio would also require permission to override the frequencies. In Peru, this would involve contacting la Empresa Nacional de Puertos which is currently in charge of getting tsunami messages to ships.1
These are all fast and easy ways to convey relatively detailed messages. Also, the infrastructure already exists and is more or less ubiquitous, making these three methods of disseminating warning inexpensive and effective.
People who are outside (on beaches, streets, fields, in small boats close to shore, or in any other remote location), asleep, or simply not listening to the radio, watching television, or surfing the web, even where all of these technologies are ubiquitous, will not hear warnings sent through the media. To solve this problem, we propose the use of loud outdoor warning signals (sirens) that can be heard over long distances covering all areas at risk from tsunamis; they would be able to alert people both indoors and outdoors. Sirens have the inherent collateral advantage of attracting attention and increasing the sense of urgency for people who may already have heard about the tsunami through the technologies previously mentioned. Also, sirens, especially when they can be remotely activated through the receipt of a shortwave radio signal, can send messages out in a matter of minutes. Shortwave signals are advantageous because they can carry over much greater distances than can long wave signals and therefore do not require a chain of transmitters to carry the signal along. Not only would transmitters slow the signal down, but if one failed, the chain would be broken and the message would, at best, be delayed or, at worst, be prevented from reaching sirens and tone-alert radios at the end of the chain.
Also, the sirens should be designed to minimize their risk of failure. One way to do this is to have a back-up for every siren. Doubling the siren system gets expensive, however, (sirens cost between $10,000 and $40,000 each2) and does not guarantee that the second siren will not fail for the same reason the first did. A more feasible solution is to design a more robust siren. Siren failure is likely to be caused by power outages, damage to the siren itself during an earthquake, or problems with the mechanism that have gone unnoticed. Sirens with solutions to some of these problems already exist: the AHAB system (all hazard alert broadcasting system) has self-sufficient power3 and thus would not be disabled by a power outage and other systems of sirens have regularly scheduled tests to make sure that they are still working. The Siuslaw National Forest in the United States, for example, has a 3-minute solid tone-out tsunami siren test on the second Monday of every month.4 Sirens could also be designed so they could be activated manually if necessary and have cheap, sturdy parts that make what little maintenance is necessary easy and inexpensive. Ideally, this type of engineering could also make sirens less expensive in the long term. The development of a system with a much smaller chance of failure than the average siren is simply a matter of bringing these features together.
Another option is for sirens to give several different levels of warning through the use of different colored flashing lights and/or different sounding alarms. This, however, greatly increases the probability that people will be confused and not know to evacuate when they need to. Even if people are taught the differences between the alarms, differences in sounds can easily be confused or forgotten. Also, even if people could always distinguish between different warnings, having the sirens go off in the case of tsunami advisories in addition to warnings will make people more accustomed to hearing them, fostering complacency. This effect is similar to that of having too many false alarms; it is like “crying wolf."5 In light of these considerations, we propose just one type of siren to be activated only in the case of a warning (when evacuation is necessary). In this case, as soon as people hear the siren, there will be no ambiguity as to its meaning.
In short, sirens should be placed so they can be heard in all coastal areas at risk from tsunamis. The sirens will be designed so they are as robust, inexpensive, and efficient as possible. To avoid the use of signal transmitters, sirens should be activated by a shortwave radio signal. To prevent siren failure, they should be able to be manually activated if necessary and as durable as possible. That is, they should be able to survive an earthquake in addition to having a design that requires minimal maintenance and with what maintenance is necessary made easy and inexpensive. The area over which the sirens can be heard should be maximized so that fewer will need to be put in place. Also, there should be a monthly siren test at a predetermined time on a set date. A month between tests is a short enough time to drastically reduce the probability that a problem with the siren will not be fixed before a tsunami hits and a long enough time to prevent the test from being confused with a real emergency and to avoid simply annoying the people who have to hear it too much.
» Tone-alert radios
Shortwave tone-alert radios need to be given out to people who need specific information immediately after a tsunami watch or warning is issued. Namely: local officials responsible for evacuation and emergency response (defined more specifically under the education section), some national government officials, coastal and navigational organizations, geophysical institutes, and mass communication centers.
In areas that lack or have very few telephones, radios, televisions, and computers, nobody will have specific information about the tsunami without tone-alert radios. How long should they stay evacuated? How far away from the water do they need to go? With tone-alert radios, one or more local officials (depending on how large the town is) will be able to receive specific information and help with the evacuation. We will also give tone-alert radios to coastal and navigational organizations, emergency response organizations, and national government officials so they get speedy alerts and in case some telephone lines are down. This will ensure that at least one person in each town or organization will know the tsunami is coming in case automatic sirens fail. The advantage of tone-alert radios is that they do not have to be turned on for an incoming signal to be heard.
An alternative to this plan is to give every household a radio if it does not already have one. This, however, would require searching out and contacting a large number of families and/or individuals who are unlikely to receive any notice sent out through the media, not to mention the costs associated with the distribution and maintenance of an equally large number of radios. Also, even after the radios are distributed, they will only be effective when they are working properly and on at the time a warning or watch is sent out. Watches and warnings that come at night are especially likely to be missed.
A second alternative to our plan is to distribute tone-alert radios instead of the conventional type to everyone who lacks a radio. This would solve the problem of warnings only being conveyed when the radios are turned on, but would be even more expensive. Each radio costs between about $20 and $500 (the high end includes features that allow message programming).6,7 Our plan is much more cost effective, since the people who do not receive the specific information will still get the most important warning message when the sirens sound and those who do have tone-alert radios will be able to spread the word during evacuation.
Especially in areas with little existing communication infrastructure, there needs to be some back-up for the automatic sirens in case they do not sound so local officials can quickly get out the warning. Depending on what resources are available and on local customs, this could be done with fixed loudspeakers, portable loudspeakers mounted on vehicles or planes, church bells, a manually activated siren (our proposed automatic sirens can be manually activated), or, if necessary, by simply knocking on doors. When the siren is working, these tools can be used to help direct the evacuation and reinforce the siren’s message, making sure people know they need to evacuate, where they need to go to be safe, and how long they need to stay there. The alternative local warning systems that need to be distributed are loudspeakers because the rest of the systems are covered by either features of the sirens or depend on the particulars of each village. We suggest distributing them as needed (officials may already have them), concentrating on places without many televisions and radios since the instructions provided over loudspeakers will be most needed in these areas and the probability that officials do not already have loudspeakers will be much higher than in larger, more modernized towns.
» Telephone/Automatic Dialers
Our plan is to install automatic dialers for telephone calls to give prerecorded messages as a back-up to other modes of communication to all of the people who will be receiving a tone-alert radio in addition to the heads of large establishments (buildings or complexes containing many people) such as schools, hospitals, office buildings, nursing homes, jails, commercial shopping centers, and hotels. Direct calls should be made where, and only where, 2-way communication is necessary (to the mass communication centers and a few national government officials).
To keep the warning system cost effective, conventional telephones can only realistically be used to warn a few people. Though the basic infrastructure is already in place, sending out a mass telephone message requires automatic dialers which are expensive: $24,000 for installation costs, operating costs of $0.02 per telephone line per year ($45,000 per year for 100,000 lines), and $0.20 per completed call when the system needs to be activated.2 Another problem is that they are slow, only reaching at most, 500 people per minute.2
The logical choices of people to receive calls are emergency response and evacuation officials, mass communication centers, national government officials, coastal and navigational organizations and the heads of establishments such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, commercial shopping centers, jails, and office buildings. This would still require automatic dialers, but at a much smaller scale. These few calls are definitely worth the cost since the receipt of this type of message does not depend on a radio or television happening to be on at any given moment and will reach a far greater number of people per call than calls to individual houses could. Also, some automatic dialers can even change the sound of the phone’s ring so the person receiving the call knows immediately that it is an emergency.8
Instead of using automatic dialers, the people who need to receive calls could be contacted directly. However, since making a large number of personal calls is time consuming and requires a large number of people, we do not suggest using direct calls except in the few cases where two-way communication is necessary.
» Text Messaging/Directory of Cell Phone Numbers
We plan to use text messaging to send out brief mass messages about detected tsunamis. Though these messages certainly do not reach everyone, they add another layer of redundancy to the warning network, further increasing the chances that as many people as possible will get warnings and watches and that these messages will be taken seriously. The infrastructure is already in place, so the only thing that the Warning Director needs to create is a list of all cell phone numbers. This should be done with the help of the providers.
A similar possibility is to send out warnings via email. This would certainly be as cheap and simple as sending out text messages, but is unlikely to be nearly as effective. As long as they are on, cell phones alert their owners of the fact that a text message has come in, whereas email needs to be checked. Among those who have computers and an internet connection, very few check their email frequently enough to be able to get this kind of a warning in a timely manner: according to the rules of probability, the chance that someone who checks their email three times a day will see an emailed warning within 30 minutes after the time it was issued is only about 6.06%. Someone who only checks their email once a day has only a 2.06% chance of seeing the email within half an hour of the time it was sent. Clearly, email is not going to be particularly useful for our purposes - time and effort should be focused on other things.
A website that can be immediately updated when the central tsunami warning center has analyzed its data should be created and publicized. One advantage of posting a web site is that it allows people who have access to the internet to get specific information like maps of areas at risk from a tsunami. It would also help reinforce and confirm warnings
heard through the media or personal contacts. Another advantage is that websites do not cost much, if anything, to create and update.
Computers that are capable of converting data from buoys to various forms of watch messages and broadcasting the appropriate message over radios (tone-alert radios, marine radios, and commercial radios), television, and cell phones (as text messages) should be placed in each country. Each country’s computer will be manned by officials from that country’s government who can make sure all is going as it should.
The advantage of setting up computers that can interpret data coming directly from the buoys is that this creates a way to give out at least a vague “heads up” to places near the origin of a tsunami before the wave hits. People can start preparing for evacuation before the signal from the buoy has time to make it all the way to the central tsunami warning center, be more thoroughly analyzed and be sent back in the form of a message. This little bit of extra warning could help save lives, especially if the tsunami hits before the signal has time to return from the central warning center.
The most effective way of communicating the dangers of and proper
protocol following a tsunami to the populace is to post signs. These
signs will be up all year. We expect the signs to cost about $15/ sign, $15/arrow, $10/post, and a maximum of $10/sign for the labor of
proper installation. Over all, signs will cost $50/sign, and we
expect to use around $20,000 worth of signs per country. 9
There are two different types of signs that we think are necessary:
one type of sign alerting people of the evacuation route (evacuation
route signs) and one type alerting people to tsunami "safe" locations
(evacuation site signs). The evacuation route signs should depict a
series of waves and a person running up a steep incline. In this way
we are able to quickly tell the people that tsunamis may come in more
than one wave (as they usually do) and that they should run away from
the waves up a steep incline. We believe that it would also be a good
idea to have an image that represents the evacuation site on the sign
as well, though that may prove to be less economically feasible. Each
sign will be accompanied by an arrow pointing in the direction of the
The signs will be oriented depending on the location of the viewer of
the sign to the water (meaning that the waves on the sign will always
be closest to the ocean and the man running up the hill will be
closest to inland). This means that mirror images of the signs must
be made and posted appropriately.
Also, the evacuation route sign should be posted so that it can be
read by oncoming traffic as well as pedestrians. The arrow should
remain pointed in the direction of the evacuation site. This means
that the majority of signs will be posted making 90-degree angles
To protect against theft (as these are really cool signs), we propose
the use of special screws that do not use the normal philips,
flathead, or hexogonal screwdrivers. Though it will still be possible
to take the signs, it would be more difficult and therefore much more
rare. This would cost an additional $0.39/screw.10,11
Basic Tsunami Warning Sign
These are the signs that will be used along the evacuation routes:
Micronesia has quite a cornicopia of languages. The surviving
languages include the following: Chuukese, English, Kapingamarangi,
Kosraean, Mokilese, Mortlockese, Namonuito, Ngatic Men's Creole,
Nguluwan, Nukuoro, Pááfang, Pingelapese, Pohnpeian, Puluwatese,
Satawalese, Ulithian, Woleaian, and Yapese.
Because of the large variety of languages, making the text for signs
understandable to all will be very difficult. In order to do this, we
must determine the most prevalent languages on each island and make
signs based on that information.
Based on the map above12
, we have determined the main languages
spoken on the islands that we are focusing on for our evacuation plan.
For the five most populated islands, listed below, we will be using
the two most common languages spoken on the island.
- Pohnpei - The two most prevalent languages spoken on this island are Pohnpeian
and English. Because Pohnpeian started out as a strictly oral
language, written Pohnpeian often does not carry the meaning of the
words as accurately as speaking them. Hence, English is most commonly
used for written communication.13 Therefore, the signs for Pohnpei
will be written in English.
- Tol and Weno - For the Chuuk Islands, Chuukese is mostly used for written documents,
like the Bible. However, the most prevalent written language is
English, meaning that the signs for Tol and Weno should be in
English.13 Also, English is the required spoken language in school
from 3rd grade to high school, so most of the younger generations are
already fluent in English.14
- Kosrae - For Kosrae, the old spelling systems are used mainly in the Bible;
the high language and common language are used in written government
documents and also in school textbooks. English is also a popular
language. Therefore, for Kosrae, we will use Common Kosraean and
- Yap - Yap uses many languages including Japanese, English, Yapese, and
Ulithian among others. Japanese is really not used that much, mostly
by older people. English is most used in communication, though Yapese
is also quite prevalent. So, the signs will be in English and in
The languages used in Peru are the following: Spanish, Quechua,
Aymara, and quite a few Amazonian languages. We do not have to worry
about the Amazonian languages (for the most part) as those would be
spoken further inland.
According to the maps above
, the populations living in the
coastal regions mainly speak Quechua and Spanish. Therefore, the two
languages on the signs for all of Peru will be in those two languages.
For Micronesia, the signs will read as follows:
The top will read "EVACUATION ROUTE."
The bottom will read "IN CASE OF EARTHQUAKE OR TSUNAMI, FOLLOW SIGNS TO SAFETY"
(though in the proper two languages as determined above).
For Peru, the signs will read as follows:
The top of the evacuation route sign will read: "RUTA DE
EVACUACIÓN" (Evacuation Route).
The bottom of the sign will read: "EN CASO DE TERREMOTO U OLAS, SIGUE LAS FLECHAS AL CITIO DE SEGURIDAD" (In case of earthquake or
wave, follow the arrows to a location of security, literal).
As there will be many evacuation sites, we also strongly recommend to
put an insignia/decal/image of the nearest evacuation site so that
the people know where their destination is without having just one
path laid out in arrows, which will be less efficient for mass
movement of people. For a university, we suggest putting a symbol for
a school with the name of the school; for a soccer stadium, we
suggest a symbol that looks like an arena or stadium, again, with the
name of the stadium; etc.
As Micronesia's evacuation sites will all be roughly the same, there
is no reason to put a symbol for the evacuation site on the sign as
The signs indicating the tsunami "safe" zones will read "TSUNAMI
EVACUATION SITE" ("TSUNAMI: LUGAR DE SEGURIDAD" for Peru).
We decided not to put the Peruvian signs in Quechua as well as
Quechua is a spoken language and, while possible to develop a sign
(as the word for "water" is yaku, the word for "mountain" is orqo,
and the word for "to run" is corriy, so we might be able to make
something with that) it is not necessary as Spanish is so prevalent
in the coastal regions as well. 15
1. Tsunami, Sistema de alerta. (2005, October) Dirrecion de Hidrografia y Navegacion. Marina de Guerra de Peru.
2. Tsunami Warning Systems and Procedures: Guidance for Local Officials. (2001) Oregon Emergency Management and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. pp 15 - 25.
3. State new release. (2004, December 29). Washington State Emergency Management Division.
4. Sandlake Recreation Area. (2005, August 2) Siuslaw National Forest.
5. Tierney, K. J. Implementing a seismic computerized alert network (SCAN) for Southern California: Lessons and guidance from the literature on warning response and warning systems. (2000) University of Delaware Disaster Research Center.
6. Quad cities. (2005, October) National Weather Service Forecast Office.
7. Federal Signal informer. (October 2005).
8. Miteti, D. S. Sorenson, J. H. Communication of emergency public warnings, a social science perspective and state -of-the-art assessment. (1990, August)
Colorado State University. PP 3-14 - 3-16.
9. The Traffic Sign Store -- Where America Shops for Traffic Signs.
Retrieved November 18, 2005 from the World Wide Web.
10. Bryce Fastener Security Screw. Retrieved November 18, 2005 from the
World Wide Web.
11. Darienzo, Mark. (2003). Tsunami Sign Placement Guidlines. Portland:
Nature of the Northwest.
12. Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the
World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas: SIL International.
13. Language and Communication. Retrieved November 10, 2005 from the
World Wide Web.
14. Pacific Service Region - Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia. Retrieved November 8, 2005 from the World Wide Web.
15. Lott, Philip. Bolivian Quechua-English Dictionary, Spoken Quechua,
Betanzos, Bolivia. Retrieved October 10, 2005 from the World Wide