Chilean Navy Uses Latest Technology to Assess Tsunami Threats

Chilean Navy Uses Latest Technology to Assess Tsunami Threats

By Dialogo
April 07, 2015





From building a new operations room to technology upgrades, the Chilean Navy has made several improvements to its National Tsunami Warning System (SNAM, for its Spanish acronym).

"We have one of the most modern systems, which is at the highest level in terms of technology, infrastructure, and professional capacity for evaluating tsunami threats in the country," said Rear Admiral Patricio Carrasco Hellwig, director of the Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOA, for its Spanish acronym). "It can detect, in real time, the slightest changes in sea level that might affect the safety of Chileans."

Since 2010, the Navy has established an operations room with tsunami experts supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Additionally, it has installed two satellite transmission systems, one telephonic transmission system, two power systems, and two measuring systems, all of which have been duplicated in the event of failures or problems.

The upgrades support a system of 40 SNAM monitoring stations located at sea level along the length of the country, including Antarctica and the entire island system. These stations monitor sea level, measuring variations in pressure and (through a specialized laser system) height, and transmit the data every minute via General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), a packet-oriented standard for wireless communication. It also sends the data every five minutes via satellite.

By comparison, only 20 monitoring stations collected this data in 2010 -- and they only transmitted the data once per hour.

The new communications system also allows for the exchange of text messages over a satellite network using a technology that was designed in Chile, and which maintains connectivity among the 16 maritime departments and 64 port authorities in real time, 24 hours a day.

Improvements were made after 2010 disaster


The technological improvements were prompted by the February 27, 2010 earthquake which registered 8.8 on the Richter scale and caused a tsunami. The temblor and tsunami killed 525 people, left 25 people missing, and created power blackouts which affected 93 percent of the country's population. The natural disaster caused $4 to $7 billion in economic damages.

As a consequence of that natural disaster, "various measures were taken to implement new technology. The stations weren’t as modern as they are now," Rear Adm. Carrasco explained. Updating the system cost about $7 million, the Defensa
website
reported.

In addition to the satellite and telephonic systems, the Chilean Navy also deployed a second Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoy. The DART system consists of a buoy on the surface and a sensor on the ocean floor that produce detailed information about tsunamis while they are still far from the coast. In Chile’s case, one buoy is located 180 miles west of Iquique and another is located 190 miles west of Caldera. Both buoys are connected to the global network for monitoring tsunamis.

"It’s an extremely operational network and most importantly, the information is available to the public at large, the scientific community, and all of the countries that form the Pacific Rim. Proof of this was the event that occurred in April of last year," Rear Adm. Carrasco said, referring to the earthquake and tsunami of April 1, 2014 in northern Chile.

"Everything worked the way it was supposed to. Our expectations were justified. The corresponding alerts were issued and all of the protocols and equipment worked without issue."

Highly trained staff conducts daily drills


SNAM worked smoothly in part because of its efficient and effective command system. Command and control is handled through a SNAM operations room with highly trained personnel operating under a commander with decision-making capacity. The team is made up of approximately 15 people, dedicated exclusively to the issue of potential earthquakes with tsunamis.

"The staff was trained for two months in a certificate program carried out in conjunction with the SHOA, the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso [Catholic University of Valparaíso], and UNESCO,” Rear Adm. Carrasco said. "It is a team that has received significant training and follows standardized procedures and protocols. They train on a daily basis, simulating events."

Currently, SHOA has a maximum of five minutes to provide a tsunami warning and inform authorities at the Chilean Navy, the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security (ONEMI, for its Spanish acronym), and the Directorate General of Maritime Territory, and through them the population.

The warning system relies on a base of pre-modeled scenarios, which include arrival times and wave heights estimated for the coast of Chile, to quantify the danger from a tsunami and provide the most complete alerts to the corresponding authorities. All of the models are corroborated in real time with information from the 40 stations and the buoys.

"With the pre-modeled scenarios, the SSD can quickly provide us with recommendations with a very close approximation of what will happen," Rear Adm. Carrasco said. "This prevents us from being too conservative with our decisions, because there’s too much uncertainty in waiting until you’ve seen the results of what might happen. It’s a system that can provide valuable information, and it’s currently in use in other countries."

In general, one hour of a pre-modeled scenario corresponds to one day of work. The SHOA models 10 hours per day, which signifies 10 days.

To date there have been 585 scenarios based on SSD data, Rear Adm. Carrasco said. The SHOA hopes to reach 1,000 scenarios to obtain better precision.

A daunting task


Chile has 5,000 kilometers of coastline. Subduction, the process by which the oceanic tectonic plate moves under the South American tectonic plate and generates the mechanism that causes earthquakes and tsunamis, takes place all along the coastline, explained Marco Cisternas, a researcher with the School of Marine Sciences at the Catholic University of Valparaíso in Chile.

"There is now much more expeditious communications between the SHOA, the ONEMI and the experts from the country’s different universities. The SHOA is constantly evolving," Cisternas said, praising Chile's foresight.

The task of preparing for earthquakes and tsunamis is challenging. "With this technology and these things that we have implemented, we’ve also imposed a policy of ongoing improvement," Rear Adm. Carrasco said. "These events aren’t mathematical. They’re unique. They provide us with experience. But it’s a very complex undertaking, which is demonstrated by the fact that there aren’t any systems in existence that can predict an earthquake or a tsunami. This means that we must remain vigilant."

The SHOA not only participates in the provision of emergency services, but it also regularly contributes to other endeavors including marine scientific research, unconventional marine renewable energy, maritime safety and the protection of national sovereignty.
















From building a new operations room to technology upgrades, the Chilean Navy has made several improvements to its National Tsunami Warning System (SNAM, for its Spanish acronym).

"We have one of the most modern systems, which is at the highest level in terms of technology, infrastructure, and professional capacity for evaluating tsunami threats in the country," said Rear Admiral Patricio Carrasco Hellwig, director of the Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOA, for its Spanish acronym). "It can detect, in real time, the slightest changes in sea level that might affect the safety of Chileans."

Since 2010, the Navy has established an operations room with tsunami experts supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Additionally, it has installed two satellite transmission systems, one telephonic transmission system, two power systems, and two measuring systems, all of which have been duplicated in the event of failures or problems.

The upgrades support a system of 40 SNAM monitoring stations located at sea level along the length of the country, including Antarctica and the entire island system. These stations monitor sea level, measuring variations in pressure and (through a specialized laser system) height, and transmit the data every minute via General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), a packet-oriented standard for wireless communication. It also sends the data every five minutes via satellite.

By comparison, only 20 monitoring stations collected this data in 2010 -- and they only transmitted the data once per hour.

The new communications system also allows for the exchange of text messages over a satellite network using a technology that was designed in Chile, and which maintains connectivity among the 16 maritime departments and 64 port authorities in real time, 24 hours a day.

Improvements were made after 2010 disaster


The technological improvements were prompted by the February 27, 2010 earthquake which registered 8.8 on the Richter scale and caused a tsunami. The temblor and tsunami killed 525 people, left 25 people missing, and created power blackouts which affected 93 percent of the country's population. The natural disaster caused $4 to $7 billion in economic damages.

As a consequence of that natural disaster, "various measures were taken to implement new technology. The stations weren’t as modern as they are now," Rear Adm. Carrasco explained. Updating the system cost about $7 million, the Defensa
website
reported.

In addition to the satellite and telephonic systems, the Chilean Navy also deployed a second Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoy. The DART system consists of a buoy on the surface and a sensor on the ocean floor that produce detailed information about tsunamis while they are still far from the coast. In Chile’s case, one buoy is located 180 miles west of Iquique and another is located 190 miles west of Caldera. Both buoys are connected to the global network for monitoring tsunamis.

"It’s an extremely operational network and most importantly, the information is available to the public at large, the scientific community, and all of the countries that form the Pacific Rim. Proof of this was the event that occurred in April of last year," Rear Adm. Carrasco said, referring to the earthquake and tsunami of April 1, 2014 in northern Chile.

"Everything worked the way it was supposed to. Our expectations were justified. The corresponding alerts were issued and all of the protocols and equipment worked without issue."

Highly trained staff conducts daily drills


SNAM worked smoothly in part because of its efficient and effective command system. Command and control is handled through a SNAM operations room with highly trained personnel operating under a commander with decision-making capacity. The team is made up of approximately 15 people, dedicated exclusively to the issue of potential earthquakes with tsunamis.

"The staff was trained for two months in a certificate program carried out in conjunction with the SHOA, the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso [Catholic University of Valparaíso], and UNESCO,” Rear Adm. Carrasco said. "It is a team that has received significant training and follows standardized procedures and protocols. They train on a daily basis, simulating events."

Currently, SHOA has a maximum of five minutes to provide a tsunami warning and inform authorities at the Chilean Navy, the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security (ONEMI, for its Spanish acronym), and the Directorate General of Maritime Territory, and through them the population.

The warning system relies on a base of pre-modeled scenarios, which include arrival times and wave heights estimated for the coast of Chile, to quantify the danger from a tsunami and provide the most complete alerts to the corresponding authorities. All of the models are corroborated in real time with information from the 40 stations and the buoys.

"With the pre-modeled scenarios, the SSD can quickly provide us with recommendations with a very close approximation of what will happen," Rear Adm. Carrasco said. "This prevents us from being too conservative with our decisions, because there’s too much uncertainty in waiting until you’ve seen the results of what might happen. It’s a system that can provide valuable information, and it’s currently in use in other countries."

In general, one hour of a pre-modeled scenario corresponds to one day of work. The SHOA models 10 hours per day, which signifies 10 days.

To date there have been 585 scenarios based on SSD data, Rear Adm. Carrasco said. The SHOA hopes to reach 1,000 scenarios to obtain better precision.

A daunting task


Chile has 5,000 kilometers of coastline. Subduction, the process by which the oceanic tectonic plate moves under the South American tectonic plate and generates the mechanism that causes earthquakes and tsunamis, takes place all along the coastline, explained Marco Cisternas, a researcher with the School of Marine Sciences at the Catholic University of Valparaíso in Chile.

"There is now much more expeditious communications between the SHOA, the ONEMI and the experts from the country’s different universities. The SHOA is constantly evolving," Cisternas said, praising Chile's foresight.

The task of preparing for earthquakes and tsunamis is challenging. "With this technology and these things that we have implemented, we’ve also imposed a policy of ongoing improvement," Rear Adm. Carrasco said. "These events aren’t mathematical. They’re unique. They provide us with experience. But it’s a very complex undertaking, which is demonstrated by the fact that there aren’t any systems in existence that can predict an earthquake or a tsunami. This means that we must remain vigilant."

The SHOA not only participates in the provision of emergency services, but it also regularly contributes to other endeavors including marine scientific research, unconventional marine renewable energy, maritime safety and the protection of national sovereignty.












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