21st JAMCO Online International Symposium
March 14 to September 15, 2013
Tsunami Response Systems and the Role of Asia's Broadcasters
A year earlier in 2012, the theme of the 20th JAMCO Online International Symposium was Japanese TV coverage and foreign reception of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. This year, we took this a step further and planned the symposium so that we could heighten awareness about the issue of “What role can television broadcasters play in protecting the people in Asia from massively destructive tsunamis?”
When I participated as a representative of JAMCO in the 2011 Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) General Assembly in New Delhi and the 2012 ABU General Assembly in Seoul programming committee and introduced a documentary program on the massive tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake, I received an overwhelming response and many questions from Asian broadcasters from regions facing the ocean. I became strongly aware of the depths of their interest in tsunami response systems and this became a major motive for organizing this symposium.
The Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004 caused more than 200,000 deaths and massive destruction in Asian nations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The roles of the media in tsunami disaster prevention include issuing tsunami warnings and evacuation orders in advance, transmitting information that can assist search and rescue activities at the disaster sites, supporting rehabilitation and reconstruction, and raising public awareness about tsunami preparedness and evacuation. We discussed these points at this Online International Symposium, focusing on the role of media in issuing advance tsunami warnings and evacuation calls. We received reports from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand about the tsunami reporting during the Indian Ocean Tsunami and how “early warning systems” were established after the disaster. It seems that at the time of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, even though there was a certain length of time between the earthquake and the arrival of the tsunami, the three countries were unable to issue a tsunami warning and evacuation call in advance. These countries reported that “early warning systems” that alert people about impending tsunamis have been established since the disaster.
However, as Mr. Takanobu Tanaka, Senior Researcher at NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, pointed out in [Discussant 2] of this symposium, such improvements have not always functioned properly in these countries. In Indonesia, for example, when a tsunami warning was issued on April 11, 2012, disaster prevention information from the meteorological agency did not reach the National Disaster Management Agency. Moreover, Professor Haruko Yamashita of Daito Bunka University Faculty of Economics presented the persuasive viewpoint in [Discussant 1] that we must not only strive to establish and improve “early warning systems” but also strive to fulfill a wide range of preconditions such as “public knowledge about tsunami,” “public trust in broadcasters” and “usability of receiver devices.”
In this way, tsunami response systems must be discussed in a broad context. Needless to say, it is necessary for countries to share their experiences and information. From that perspective, the international support and information exchange programs outlined by Natalia Ilieva, Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), and Toshiyuki Sato, Special Controller of NHK General Broadcasting Administration, are important initiatives that must be further pursued.
The tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake caused devastating damage and left us with serious challenges with regard to how we can integrate the information from “early warning systems” and transmission methods in an overall tsunami response system. The fact that such immense damage was sustained in Japan, a country that has the most advanced tsunami response systems, proves that it is necessary for us to conduct multifaceted and rational evaluations and take a long-term approach to the enhancement of prevention measures.
From this point of view, the role of “community radio” and the idea of “multicast” as discussed by Chairman Frederik Ndolu of Indonesiasatu Communication and others proved to be valuable hints about the direction we should take. Of particular note is the fact that all three countries pointed to the role of community in tsunami response systems. Social networks in our daily lives such as local communities, churches, temples, markets, fishing communities and NGOs can play a role in distributing information. Another issue is how mass media such as television stations can connect to these networks. Assistant Professor Supanee Nitsmer of Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok introduced the satellite-based National Disaster Early Warning System that has been set up in Thailand, suggesting the potential of cooperation between mass media and communities.
Another point that was mentioned in the report from Thailand was the problem of “false alarms,” which is when a warning is issued but nothing occurs. Due to the nature of these warnings, some “false alarms” would probably be unavoidable. The main concern is not the question of responsibility of the issuers of warning. The more serious problem is that residents may become so used to “false alarms” that they will fail to evacuate when warnings are issued. This is an issue that may arise when “early warnings systems” are established and start to function. The only solution is to collaborate with social psychologists and other experts to provide “education based on experience.” In this regard, Mr. Mohamed Shareef Asees, Visiting Lecturer at Colombo University in Sri Lanka, introduced community-level projects in which schools, religious groups, fishing communities and other groups work to disseminate knowledge and raise public awareness about tsunami disasters. I believe such efforts will be extremely valuable.
Reports from various countries also included the essential role that television must play in such awareness building activities.
Japanese television broadcasters are also strengthening their efforts such as airing a series of programs in which children play a central role in disaster prevention activities focusing on tsunamis. JAMCO is also committed to cooperating in activities to protect people from tsunamis and other disasters. We are producing international versions of television programs that promote tsunami response systems and providing these free of charge to developing countries in Asia and Africa, especially those countries that face the ocean.
In closing the symposium, I would like to pray for the souls of those who perished in the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the Great East Japan Earthquake. I would also like to extend a special thank you to those who played key roles in organizing the symposium, including Professor Haruko Yamashita of Daito Bunka University and Takanobu Tanaka, Senior Researcher at NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, as well as everyone who provided their reports and participated in the discussions. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to all of you who visited this site.
Executive Managing Director, Japan Media Communication Center (JAMCO)