UAE takes part in major tsunami drill in Indian Ocean

Indian and Pacific nations pledge to stay on alert for a repeat of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed more than 225,000 people

The UAE has taken part in a major international exercise to test how well prepared it would be if there was a tsunami.

The drill involving countries around the Indian Ocean was focused on a possible event in the Makran trench, a fault line at the northern end of the Gulf of Oman.

With several tsunami bulletins issued, it allowed the authorities to assess how agencies in the Emirates that would deal with an emergency responded.

Part of a series of drills called IOWave20, the event on Tuesday also aimed to improve emergency co-ordination between countries in the region.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in the Indian and Pacific Oceans has brought to the attention of the world the urgent need to be more prepared for such events

The UAE's National Centre of Meteorology represented the country in the exercise, while the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority also took part.

"The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and subsequent events in the Indian and Pacific Oceans have brought to the attention of the world the urgent need to be more prepared for such events," Dr Abdulla Al Mandous, the centre's executive director, said.

He said the event was focused on testing the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, which was set up through the UN after events in 2004 and involves several seismographic stations that send information to countries that could be affected.

Dr Al Mandous also said the event aimed to identify "operational strengths and challenges in each country", with the key focus on overall co-ordination and ensuring that tsunami warnings were sent quickly and information was passed on to communities at risk.

epa08739652 Volunteers and officials participate during an earthquake and tsunami drill on a beach in Dili, East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, 13 October 2020. The drill was staged to improve disaster preparedness.  EPA/ANTONIO DASIPARU

“We will evaluate what works well, where improvements are needed, make necessary changes, and continue to practice,” he said.

The risk of a major tsunami directly affecting the UAE is thought to be low, because the Indian subcontinent protects the country from the seismically unstable areas near Indonesia where an earthquake sparked the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 225,000 people in 14 countries.

However, seismologists said there was the potential for a smaller-scale tsunami because of movements at the Makran trench, where the Arabian plate, which contains the Arabian peninsula and some surrounding water and land areas, moves underneath the Eurasian plate.

As the Makran trench is fairly close to the Arabian peninsula, experts previously gave a warning that there would be little time for early warning systems to act, making a rapid response all the more important.

Reports on seismic activity in the Makran trench, where seismic events could threaten the east coast of the UAE in particular, are provided by the National Centre of Meteorology to other organisations in the country.

To improve early warning systems, the centre is part of various international projects to monitor regional seismic activity and sea levels.

It also promotes research and the sharing of data and risk assessments between countries and its role extends to working with authorities to educate communities, especially those on the east coast, about what to do if tsunami warnings are issued.

After last week’s event, countries and agencies that took part are carrying out a review to ensure lessons are learnt.

Tuesday’s drill was the third and final part of IOWave20, which happens through Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

While last week’s exercise involved the Makran trench, earlier in the month one-day exercises were held that focused on two other key areas in the Indian Ocean, the Java trench and the Sumatra-Andaman trench.