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Fiji to trial siren tsunami warning system

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated Wed Oct 14, 2009 6:40pm AEST

Fiji is preparing to test a tsunami alert system that will use sirens to warn locals of an incoming wave. The sirens can be activated by a mobile phone text message sent by Fiji's Disaster Management Office and a number of other officials. The sirens will ensure that anyone who is not tuned in to the radio or near a
phone can be alerted quickly to possible danger.

Presenter: Kate McPherson
Speaker: Tauz Khan, Managing Director of Safeway Electronics; Patiliai Dobui, Principal Assistant Secretary, Fiji's National Disaster Management Office (DISMAC) and Rajendra Prasad, Chairman of the Fiji tsunami working group and Director of Meteorology in Fiji

Listen:Windows Media

MCPHERSON: Fiji is a step closer to having a siren alert system to warn people of a tsunami. Fiji's Disaster Management Office (DISMAC) and other officials will be given a phone number they can text from anywhere in the world to activate the sirens, either individually or collectively. Tauz Khan is the Managing Director of Safeway Electronics, which has designed the system.

KHAN: Once the Fiji dispatch gets the warning from Hawaii, then upon receiving that warning, the DISMAC is able to switch on the siren, or the alert system that we have designed, using SMS or text messages using mobile phone.

MCPHERSON: Mr Khan says the aim of the siren is to alert people to a potential threat, prompting them to listen to the radio for more information.

KHAN: All the radio stations will broadcast the warning. The message across to the people is: 'when you hear this siren, turn on the radio'. Then the radio will tell you whether it's earthquake or tsunami or any other disaster approaching the country.

MCPHERSON: A program will be trialed in the capital Suva, where ten sirens will be installed within the next month.

KHAN: I have been given go ahead to install it in Suva Peninsula as a trial one. A pilot project will see how effective it is. It's sort of covering an area of about 8 kilometres, so that's directly in line with the open passage that comes to the Suva wharf.

MCPHERSON: This month's devastating tsunami in Tonga and the Samoas has raised serious concerns about the current warning systems in place in Fiji. Patiliai Dobui from Fiji's Disaster Management Office says this siren system will address some of the issues, by warning vulnerable people who cannot be contacted in other ways.

DOBUI: Because some of the people may not have the reach of a telephone or a radio where we normally send the communication or might not have the reach of the police. But with the sound of bell, it should warn everyone in the vulnerable areas to move to high ground.

MCPHERSON: Chairman of the Fiji Tsunami working group and Director of Meteorology in Fiji, Rajendra Prasad - who was among those who called for the current warning system to be urgently reviewed - says the sirens can be used for more than just tsunami alerts.

PRASAD: In the coastal, river-flood prone zones, it can be used to warn people of approaching floods generated by heavy rainfall in upper hills, moving swiftly towards the coastal areas and also a damaging heavy swell, which can easily be four to five metres above normal height. So we have had those situations in the past, causing a bit of havoc in some villages in Fiji and then storm surges, and other phenomena, such as tropical cyclones. They could be useful people who really do not have that information, especially, the tourists, for example.

MCPHERSON: Last week a series of earthquakes struck in the west Pacific region and a warning message was sent to people's mobile phones about a possible tsunami. Tauz Khan says this warning is good for people with mobiles, but he worries about those who don't.

KHAN: We found a number of people who had mobile phones, they were fine, because the mobile phones companies sent a text message. But there were people like fishermen along the coast who were fishing, they don't have mobile phones. Areas along the coast, where the school kids are, they don't have it. Just on the Suva coast, there were five schools with an average of 1,000 students in each - just 5,000 students - and the warning was triggered at around 10. That is when all the students were in the school. And there is no way they could know.

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