'Cry Wolf' Fears for Tsunamis; Call for Upgraded Warning System to Overcome Public Complacency

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Byline: Alex Easton alex.easton@northernstar.com.au

A DETAILED grading system for tsunami warnings, similar to that used for bushfire conditions, is needed to prevent a 'cry wolf' perception of the warnings among the Australian public, the head of a local volunteer rescue group said yesterday.

Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre co-director Chris Ryan agreed with the call from Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue head Garry Meredith, but said the science was not yet advanced enough to provide details beyond the existing two-level system.

Mr Meredith said people in his organisation didn't notice any effects from Sunday's tsunami, created by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile, and local life guards had a tough time convincing beach-goers to stay out of the water.

"I like the idea of the early-warning system, but it's a question of how many of those you are going to get before people get blase about it," Mr Meredith said.

Mr Ryan agreed the tsunami warning centre had work to do educating Australians about the nature of tsunami warnings.

He also agreed a more detailed warning system would help, but the science had a way to go before that could happen. "Predicting tsunami waves from earthquakes deep under the ocean floor on the other side of the Pacific is a complicated business," he said.

The warning for the Australian coast for Sunday and yesterday was a Level 1 'marine environment' warning and was never expected to produce visually spectacular waves.

That did not mean there was no risk associated with it, Mr Ryan said. Although the tsunami waves hitting the mainland were smaller than the 50cm waves predicted by the centre's modelling, the danger was about what was going on under the water. …