Not to be outdone by the Tsunami scare of seven months ago, this morning's earthquake off of Samoa was yet another lesson in the ongoing saga of island communication challenges.
Around 6 a.m (Fiji time)., a very large quake struck in the ocean, immediately generating a tsunami. Around 6.30, I start seeing news about it on CNN International clearly reporting the Pacific Tsunami Center's warning of a tsunami generated. I flip over to BBC and sure enough, BREAKING NEWS is being highlighted there as well. A tsunami has definitely been generated.
I flipped the channel to local programming on FijiOne and was met with a recording of a morning church service. I swore in frustration and put on the local radio to hear the familiar banter of nothing important being said. I scratched my head in disbelief...here I've got 2 international news sources clearly reporting tsunami warnings for the country I was in and I couldn't get any local confirmation at all? By this point, NZ newspapers were already reporting the story.
Let me guess what will likely happen over the next week or so in Fiji...
- Someone will write a letter to the newspapers lamenting the fact that there was no efficient public communication.
- A few regional academics, NGOs or government people will chime in about what the communication process should be and what should happen next time. It may even be quite forcefully argued that doing nothing will eventually and definitely cause the deaths of people.
- Some additional discussion may continue for a week or so.
- Within the next six months, another earthquake/tsunami will occur.
- [RETURN TO STEP ONE AND REPEAT]
I walked into my office at 8 a.m and NO ONE even knew about the warning. The first local report I saw came from FM96 who reported the tsunami warning on their LAST news story of the 8 a.m. update. The next news update reported the story first but only to inform the public that the tsunami warning had been canceled, more than 20 minutes after the estimated hit to our coasts. Kudos to FM96 for at least reporting it. FijiTV went from the church service to a kid's show, arguably to keep the children of Fiji calm as waves washed over them.
Am I being melodramatic? Yes and no.
There was essentially NO communication to the Fijian population this morning. Zero.
The media organisations have no excuse when it comes to their REPEATED failure to communicate to the public. When the international agency responsible for reporting tsunami warnings issues one, then that is all these organisations need to get the word out. Any excuses about how local confirmation is needed but the guy who needs to confirm it has run out of mobile credit and can't be reached on his home telephone because the copper was stripped out of his neighbourhood's phone wires by a bunch of roving (and entrepreneurial) youths is not a reasonable argument.
It's just a matter of time until people die in Fiji, too. This isn't rocket science.
At that point, FijiTV's religious programming will certainly be the appropriate content to air.
[UPDATE #1.: The seriousness of this particular earthquake/tsunami is becoming more evident. Samoa got hit pretty hard and although it's obviously not as deadly as the Indonesian tsunami years ago, I think it does show the sheer vulnerability in the pacific region. Yet again, we're being given a preview of what Fiji will, inevitably, face at some point. A "Fiji-time" response is unacceptable.]
[UPDATE #2 : Nice to see the ConnectMe's website step in to provide a decent (and growing) overview of the morning tsunami along with collection of links. One more slap in the face to the local media's poor efforts.]