This document is aimed at national authorities responsible for the organisation of tsunami warning and emergency response. It clarifies the status of the regional tsunami services for the Indian Ocean and suggests best practices for national and local actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The document recognises that current national, regional and local responses to the COVID-19 may differ depending upon a number of conditions, such as the phase of the pandemic, transmission in the community, demographics, response capabilities, etc. ICG/IOTWMS Member States are therefore strongly encouraged to develop nationally coordinated guidelines based on this document to suit specific national circumstances and protocols, thus contributing to a common understanding of how to handle tsunami warnings and evacuations under COVID-19 pandemic conditions. Additionally, it is essential that the public in every country is properly sensitised to the resulting guidelines in advance of a tsunami event, so that they can act appropriately during a tsunami emergency.
The current COVID-19 response has resulted in a shift of priorities, alterations in work processes and venues (home office), physical distancing, self-isolation and quarantine measures, as well as temporary lockdowns of entire communities. This may create ambiguity or confusion with regards to tsunami warning services and response actions like evacuation, under co-existing COVID-19 protocols.
In particular, it must be taken into account that the rapid-onset nature of tsunamis not only requires immediate action by official authorities to provide warnings and initiate evacuation processes, but may also require quick and autonomous decisions on the part of the population for self-evacuation in the case of near-field threats. This is of course also true in COVID-19 times and it is therefore necessary to ensure that the population is not prevented from taking life-saving action by possible official restrictions aimed at the containment of the virus. As has been shown tragically in the past, tsunamis can also claim thousands of lives.