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JAMCO Online International Symposium

23rd JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 2015 - October2015

Audience Perception of Japanese TV Programs in Asia and the Middle East.

The Establishment and Operation of Global Tsunami Warning Systems by UNESCO
: The Role of Video Imagery

Masahiro Yamamoto
Former member of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO
Former director of the Earthquake and Tsunami Observations Division of the Japan Meteorological Agency

International Tsunami Symposium Organized by UNESCO

On March 11, 2011, the world was deeply shocked to see the footage being broadcast from Japan. How did the tsunami claim so many lives in Japan, a leading country in tsunami protection measures? In the minds of tsunami researchers around the world, this was the big question. Immediately after the devastating tsunami, researchers and administrators both foreign and domestic began conducting comprehensive investigations and analyses from all angles. A year after the Great East Japan Earthquake, it becomes clear what had happened in Japan.

Taking this opportunity, UNESCO organized a two-day international symposium in Tokyo entitled “The Great East Japan Tsunami and Tsunami Warning Systems: Policy Perspectives.” The objective of the symposium was to comprehensively evaluate the results of the investigations and analyses conducted in the year after the tsunami, and to share globally what were learned, in the hope that each country uses this knowledge in future policies so that such a tragedy is never repeated.

Because UNESCO is the only one organization that handles oceanographic observation in United Nations, and established the International Tsunami Warning System in The Pacific Ocean after the 1960 devastating Chilean tsunami. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, UNESCO also has the mandate to promote and establish the Global Tsunami Warning Systems not only in Indian Ocean.

In the Opening Session, welcoming remarks were provided by His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito. Some hundreds of tsunami researchers and decision makers in the civil management and protection agencies were participated to the Symposium. NHK representative gave the first lecture utilizing the special video titled “The Great East Japan Tsunami” produced and edited for this symposium. This video well answered several questions such as “What was happening at the time of the tsunami?” and “What exactly is the Tohoku tsunami?” in an easy-to-understand manner. This video also demonstrated to the participants “the devastating impact of tsunamis” and underscored “the importance and necessity of tsunami protection measures.” This presentation left a strong impression on all participants and renewed their awareness of the great power and importance of video imagery.

After the video presentation, Sessions were held in five different areas. Session 1, entitled “What happened during the tsunami of 11 March 2011? What was unexpected event? What is a new strategy to prepare for the unexpected event?” included presentations by the Mayor of municipality affected by the tsunami and Japanese top tsunami researcher. This was followed by the panel discussion on future emergency preparedness measures with overseas researchers together with representatives from Japanese administrative agencies. In the other Sessions, discussions were held on a wide range of topics, including “how to enhance public awareness at the community level,” “how to improve tsunami warnings system” and “strengthening international cooperation.”

Session 4; “The role of mass media: Global media collaboration in response to natural hazards and preparedness,” was moderated by Journalist Akira Ikegami. Several reporters from foreign and domestic news media were participated in the panel discussion. In the discussion, panelists stressed the following: “The essential role of mass media during a disaster event is the broadcasting of timely, reliable and accurate information for the safety of the public”. For disaster-related information, two essential keywords are reliability and accuracy. In the case of Japan, the tsunami warning dissemination and response system has been established over the years by the close collaboration between the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the Japan Broadcasting Cooperation (NHK). This is a typical exemplary system, and will be a model for others to be followed.
Please refer to the following website for further details about the symposium:

In order to save human lives from tsunami, a comprehensive tsunami warning system must be built-up. The Tsunami Warning System should not only be able to issue tsunami warnings immediately after an large earthquake, but also quickly disseminate the warnings to people in tsunami threat zones and enable them to take appropriate action to evacuate. The author was involved in the development projects of tsunami warning systems in various countries and regions around the world for seven years as a staff of UNESCO. The author visited and instructed not only the earthquake monitoring centers but also many disaster management and prevention agencies, educational institutions, and local municipalities, and carried out several types of workshops and lectures on how to establish an effective tsunami warning system.
“What is a tsunami?” This is the first question from the participants. If the real videos such as the Indian Ocean tsunami and Tohoku tsunami were shown, all participants become instantly serious. Their motivation was strengthened when they saw the speed and destructive force of the real tsunami. This demonstrates the power and importance of tsunami video footages.

The Start of a Tsunami Warning System Based on the Cooperation of Pacific Countries

When Japan’s tsunami warning system was initiated in 1941, it covered only the Sanriku Coast – the eastern coast of the Tohoku region. Later, JMA expanded to cover the entire Japan. This Tsunami Warning System, however, only covered for the tsunamis generated by the earthquakes took place in and near Japan.

Just before daybreak on May 24, 1960, the Pacific coast of Japan was suddenly attacked by a tsunami which was not preceded by a locally felt earthquake, and 142 people were killed. This tsunami was generated by the massive earthquake that occurred in Chile. The giant tsunami crossed the Pacific and reached Japan after one day. Although eight hours before Japan was hit, the large tsunami struck Hawaii, JMA could not issue any tsunami warning to Japanese coasts because no tsunami information were available from Hawaii. If an international exchange system of earthquake and tsunami information had existed at the time, large-scale damage in Japan could have been prevented. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) took the lead in establishing an international tsunami warning system. In 1965, the International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) was established in Hawaii. However, this system can cover tsunami hazards only in the Pacific. The system could not prevent the massive tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

About ten years ago, on December 26, 2004, an 9.1-magnitude earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The enormous tsunami generated by this earthquake caused overwhelming destruction not only in Indonesia but also in other countries around the Indian Ocean, as far away as Africa. It killed more than 230,000 people, the largest death toll in the recorded history of tsunamis. Prompted by this disaster, UNESCO took the lead once again, and the construction of a global tsunami warning system was quickly initiated covering not only the Indian Ocean but also the Caribbean Sea and the NE Atlantic Ocean including the Mediterranean. Now, ten years after the start of this project, tsunami warning systems are in operation in all ocean areas. We can safely say that there will be no more “surprise attacks” by tsunamis.

If we take Indonesia as an example, when the Indian Ocean tsunami occurred, the seismic monitoring system of the Indonesian Meteorological Agency (BMKG) was out of date. There were only 60 seismographic stations around the country, which was not able to cover a vast territory that stretches more than 5,000 kilometers from east to west. Moreover, more than half of the stations were monitored by local observers who read the records and reported them by phone to the Seismological Center in Jakarta. It took more than 40 minutes to announce seismic information; no advance tsunami warnings could have been issued at the time of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

After the disaster, however, Indonesia began building a new state-of-the-art tsunami warning system, with the support of various countries around the world. Four years later, the system was capable of issuing a tsunami warning within five minutes after an earthquake occurred. Tsunami warnings are now transmitted automatically to television and radio stations. This new system can drastically reduce the required time to broadcast the Tsunami Warnings. Similar tsunami warning systems have also started operations in other countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and India that suffered major damage from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

The Need for Continuous Tsunami Disaster Prevention Measures

It is relatively easy to establish a new system. Because all the parties concerned, including governments, are highly motivated, and they cooperate to move forward with the task, which proceeds relatively smoothly. Issues related to cost and technology can be solved with the support of advanced industrial nations. The real challenge, however, is the long-term maintenance, renewal and continuous improvement of such systems. As time passes, the media, the public, and many of the concerned parties tend to lose interest.

Past tragedies, usually, are quickly forgotten. The media may be partly responsible for this. For example, a year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, the author, who was at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, was approached by most major Japanese news organizations for interviews about the progress of the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system that was being established. All the news organizations were eager to remind the public once again about “the horrors of tsunami damage of one year ago.” Separate interviews were conducted by various divisions within NHK.

However, a year later, only a few news organizations did the same. Three years after the Indian Ocean tsunami, there were no inquiries from news organizations about the current state of the tsunami warning system, even though it was not yet in operation. Moreover, large-scale tsunamis do not occur very frequently. Protecting the lives of citizens from such a rare disaster is a major challenge. Disaster prevention agencies, educational institutions and the media must cooperate closely each other, and make efforts together to prevent disasters at various levels – from schools, workplaces, households and communities – repeatedly and on a regular basis. This is the only way to save human lives from a next tsunami.

In this case, we need several effective learning and educational materials for public. Video programs are the most effective learning materials for tsunami disaster prevention. Since the 3.11 Tohoku Tsunami disaster, many broadcasting organizations in Japan have produced various tsunami-related programs. Global tsunami warning systems are already in operation. On the other hand, as a result of recent tourism development, the population in the coastal areas have enormously increased not only in the Pacific but also Indian Oceans, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean areas. In another word, the population living in the high tsunami risk area have also been increasing than before. It is quite important to share globally what Japan lessons learned from 3.11 Tohoku Tsunami. I would propose that all tsunami-related news reports and educational programs produced in Japan could be globally shared so that everybody are able see at any time and learn correctly from such programs repeatedly through schools and news organizations. One of the biggest responsibly of Japan shall be the continuous contributions and activities to tsunami disaster prevention for the world.

Masahiro Yamamoto

Former member of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO
Former director of the Earthquake and Tsunami Observations Division of the Japan Meteorological Agency

Graduated from Meteorological College in 1969, he started his career in Seismological Division of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).
He also worked for Science and Technology Agency and Fukuoka Regional Headquaters, Japan Meteorological Agency.
He was assigned to Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization from 1997 to 2002.
He took up post of the Head of Volcanology Division in 2002, the Head of Earthquake and Tsunami Observation Division in 2004. He was sent to Tsunami Unit which was established in the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO where he served for 7 years from 2005.

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