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The current pandemic leaves disaster managers with new and unique challenges in preparing for – and responding to – natural disasters that may take place. With restrictions on human interaction and movement due to significant health challenges, the occurrence of a natural disaster could force large numbers of people into close proximity, with the potential to add to the disaster impact through spread of the highly contagious virus. To overcome this, planning and guidelines are required to be developed in short turnaround, and risks such as tsunami disasters require specific consideration.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), in consultation and collaboration with expert working groups within Intergovernmental Coordination Groups (ICGs), has released regional guidelines for tsunami warning services, evacuation and sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic. The four regional guidelines (for the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the North-eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean) include details of regional tsunami services, that can be used by national authorities responsible for the organisation of tsunami warning and emergency response to develop their own nationally-coordinated guidelines.

These guidelines are also supported by a special national version for Indonesia, particularly due to the nation’s recent history of large tsunami events. For some Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Viet Nam, the Pacific Ocean regional guidelines will provide relevant information. Meanwhile, Thailand and Myanmar can refer to the Indian Ocean regional guidelines. Additionally, these guidelines can also be applied to other coastal hazards such as storm surges and flash flooding.

When the National Tsunami Warning Centre (NTWC) and/or a National Disaster Management Organisation (NDMO) issues a tsunami warning, the desired action for the public is to follow the advice of the authorities, including evacuation from identified at-risk locations as required. It is important to highlight that human life is the priority when tsunami evacuations are required, regardless of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and physical distancing protocol. Of course, in a state of evacuation such protocols may not be practical. Regardless, handling any resultant COVID-19 infections must be done immediately following an evacuation, to minimise the risk or large-scale infection. Communities must also be aware of COVID-19 safety protocols and any requirement for physical distancing when sheltering at an evacuation site. In addition, a personal or family emergency backpack should be augmented with disposable tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes, and possibly face masks, in consideration of the heightened sanitation and hygiene requirements due to the COVID-19 virus.


Written by : Shahasrakiranna | Source : Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission