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Germans Offer Early Warning Help

There's long been talk of creating a tsunami warning system, but now it's time for action. DW-WORLD spoke to Birger-Gottfried Lühr of the Geo Research Center in Potsdam, which wants to help.

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An early warning system could prevent future devastation

DW-WORLD: At the donor conference for the tsunami victims, it was decided to introduce a warning system to the affected region. What would be the exact role of the Geo Research Center in implementing such a system?

Birger-Gottfried Lühr: Our area of expertise is recording seismic activity and quickly analyzing signals registered. In addition to this, each year we conduct a seismology training course, held alternately in Potsdam and a country which is endangered by seismic activity.

So that means it would largely be your task to quickly recognize earthquakes. But not every earthquake leads to a tsunami.

No, only a small number of earthquakes trigger tsunamis, but besides volcanic eruptions, they are the main cause. It is critical to be able to recognize that an earthquake is coming and be able to see their movement in order to determine the likelihood of a tsunami.

What else would be involved in an early warning system besides an ability to recognize the danger in time?

Early warning doesn't mean erecting a box somewhere which would ring at the critical moment. We need a system which transports information from the decision-makers to the fishermen on the beach, who would then need to know what to do. So it's also a problem of training and understanding.

How long would it take to get such a system up and running?

Even if we were to set to it with the same verve as the Japanese or the Americans, it would still take a couple of years. They are still improving their own system.

At the donor conference, Kofi Annan noted that Japan could play a leading role in an early warning system, given that the Japanese system is already very good. Does that mean it would be Japanese rather than German researchers providing the technology for an early warning system?

I think this incident has proven that natural catastrophes are a global problem. Every country on the planet should work together to reduce risk. It is definitely an advantage that Japan has already done some of the footwork, but I don't believe the Japanese should do it on their own.

Have there already been international efforts to create a better system of protection against natural catastrophes?

Yes, we've been thinking about this task for a long time. There was a United Nations initiative for the reduction of natural catastrophes between 1990 and 2000, and there is also an initiative for the future, which would build on this. So, yes, in the wider context, some preliminary work has already been done.

Is there any existing cooperation between the different research institutes?

Yes, we are not starting from scratch. We already work with many groups on a scientific level, we already have contacts with scientists. I am part of a project which works in Java and the Sunda islands, and there are a number of Indonesian institutes involved. We run a network with many stations across the world which record earthquakes, but they have to be improved, concentrated and appraised.

Has the Geo Research Institute received any official requests to become involved?As an employee here, I have noticed certain signals that there is a wish for us to become more actively involved.

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