The countries bordering the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and adjacent seas were prepared from 8 to 10 March to a tsunami preparedness exercise, set up under the aegis of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO). The exercise marks the 10th anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan, which caused a deadly and devastating surge on the north-eastern coast of the island of Honshu, leading to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The aim of the exercise was to assess the local action plans to respond to the risk of tsunamis, to increase preparedness for such events and to ensure good overall coordination between the communities and competent authorities. Called NEAMWave21, this event was the fourth of such exercise, following those of 2012, 2014 and 2017. A similar exercise will take place in the Caribbean on 12 March.
Regional and national ocean tsunami warning systems need to maintain a high level of preparedness so that all actions essential for the safety of people can be triggered in a timely manner. There must be an immediate response to natural disasters with rapid onset and evolution, such as tsunamis. To maintain a high level of preparedness, national tsunami warning centres and civil protection authorities must regularly put their emergency response procedures to the test. This includes ensuring that vital communication links are operational, that response personnel are fully aware of their role and able to act as quickly as possible during such an event.
"This exercise should make it possible to test the procedures of the tsunami warning system and to identify operational strengths and weaknesses in each country." Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC-UNESCO Executive Secretary
Three simulations were planned as part of the NEAMWave exercise21 :
- Eastern Mediterranean: on 8 March, at 9 a.m. (UTC), an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.7 at a depth of 20 km off the coast of Cyprus;
- Central Mediterranean: on 9 March, at 9 a.m. (UTC), an earthquake 7.9 to 10 km deep off the coast of Calabria (Italy);
- North-East Atlantic: on 10 March, at 9 a.m. (UTC), an earthquake 8.6 to 5 km deep off the coast of Portugal, equivalent to the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1755.
Civil protection authorities were in a position to carry out different types of exercises, up to and including an actual evacuation. Following the "North-East Atlantic - Lisbon Earthquake of 1755" scenario, the exercise also simulated a request for international assistance. It was coordinated by France's Tsunami Warning Centre (CENALT) and the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA).
A tsunami is caused by a submarine or coastal earthquake occurring at a depth of less than 50km. and having a magnitude of at least 6.5 on the Richter scale. Earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 8.7 - such as the Japanese earthquake of 11 March 2011 and the Sumatra earthquake of 26 December 2004 (9.2), cause major tsunamis leading to coastal flooding.
For more information, please contact:
Denis CHANG SENG, Programme Specialist IOC-UNESCO