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Kos, Greece: tsunami warning system put to the test

The Kos marina, popular with holidaymakers, was hit by a tsunami in 2017
The Kos marina, popular with holidaymakers, was hit by a tsunami in 2017
Nov 15 2019

The JRC, emergency services and the local community on the island of Kos will conduct a tsunami emergency response exercise on Tuesday morning.

The exercise will test new equipment and procedures put in place as part of the EU’s "Tsunami Last Mile" project, following the earthquake and tsunami that struck Kos in 2017 and caused two deaths.

The Tsunami Last Mile infrastructure includes sensors and stations to measure seismic waves and sea level, information boards with loudspeakers on the shoreline of the Kos marina and long range sirens.

The system is designed to improve early warning and communication so that the local population are well-informed, in good time, in the unlikely event that a tsunami occurs in the future.

To run the test, at 09:00 the exercise team will simulate an earthquake and will programme the sensors to read the same level of wave height that occurred during the under-sea earthquake that led to the 2017 tsunami.

To ensure the system is fit for purpose, the team will time the system’s ability to detect the earthquake, create a proper warning message and disseminate it to the relevant receivers.

The exercise will last for four hours and will involve the entire local emergency response system, implementing respective emergency management procedures.

This includes the municipality administration, the fire brigade, the police, port authorities, the ambulance service, Red Cross and volunteers.

The full system - boards, loudspeakers and sirens - will be triggered.

Groups taking part in the exercise will receive a warning message and their reaction, including evacuation procedures, will be observed and evaluated.

Students at the 3rd Elementary School and the 1st High School of Kos, as well as the employees of a local hotel are expected to follow the tsunami signs along the evacuation routes and gather in assembly areas, where they will be registered and taken care of by the operators of the local emergency response system.

The local system’s integration with the tsunami monitoring and warning service at national level by the National Observatory of Athens will also be tested.

Representatives from the European Commission’s department for civil protection and humanitarian aid operations (DG ECHO) and from the General Secretariat for Civil Protection in Greece will observe and evaluate the outcomes of the test.

Scientists from the JRC and the National Observatory of Athens will direct and steer the process from an exercise control room.

During the exercise the KATWARN mobile phone application, developed by Fraunhofer Institute, will be used in order to inform stakeholders about the ongoing alerting messages and follow the phases of the exercise.

Tsunamis in Europe?

Tsunamis in the Mediterranean may not seem like a high risk, but science tells us that they can occur across the region, with highly destructive potential and extremely short warning times.

The Hellenic Regional Tsunami Warning System, which has been operational since 2012, ensures detection and timely dissemination of warning messages to the countries concerned. However, further dissemination of the message in time to reach local communities and individual citizens remains challenging, in particular for near-shore Tsunami sources, for which the arrival time to the coast is very short.

If found effective, the innovative Tsunami Last Mile local network and its integration with the National Tsunami Warning Centre of Greece could become a reference practice for the entire Mediterranean region.

The Tsunami Last Mile Project

The exercise is the last step of the Tsunami Last Mile project, initiated and funded by the EU in 2018, after two tsunamis in the Aegean Sea that affected the coasts of Greece and Turkey (12th June and 21st July, 2017). On these occasions, the warning message did not reach the local communities.

In Kos, the tsunami occurred during the night at a time when the marina was less busy than usual. Nevertheless, there were two deaths and dozens of injuries.

The Tsunami Last Mile project was implemented in two test cases, corresponding to the locations hit in 2017.

On 5th of November, the day of the yearly “World Tsunami Awareness Day” campaign of UNISDR, the second of the two exercises foreseen by the Tsunami Last Mile project took place.

In Bodrum the innovative prototype local network, and its integration with national/regional system, was discussed during a Table Top Exercise coordinated by the Mugla City Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), supported by the District Governorship of Bodrum, Municipality of Bodrum, KOERI, METU, Bodrum Port Authority and various NGOs.

The exercise was based on the 21 July 2017 Mw 6.6 Bodrum-Kos earthquake and provided an opportunity to assess the added value of various activities undertaken since then.

The Tsunami Last Mile Project was conceived and organised by the JRC with funding from the European Commission department for civil protection and humanitarian aid operations (DG ECHO).

A second phase of the project will be organised in 2020-2021, including more Mediterranean countries and a location in Indonesia that agreed to take part in the project.

The need to alert the population at risk in the case of near-shore Tsunami events is a challenging problem because it requires the implementation of a technological set of devices that will probably be used only every few years, or never.

To be sustainable, a dual use of the devices should be foreseen, e.g. using the digital panels also to convey general public information in everyday life.

When they are needed, however, the Tsunami Last Mile infrastructure can play a crucial role in saving lives.