The devastating impact of the 26 December 2004 Indonesia earthquake and Indian Ocean Tsunami tragically demonstrated what can happen without an effective tsunami warning system. Tsunamis may not occur often, but when they do they can affect coasts, sometimes across an entire ocean. The 2004 tsunami caused damage and casualties across the entire Indian Ocean basin—even as far away as South Africa. Following this event, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) was requested to establish an Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTWMS), to promote the exchange of seismic and sea level data for rapid tsunami detection and analysis, to provide warnings for such events, and to coordinate mitigation efforts among its Member States. An efficient and effective end-to-end warning system was needed, ready to react 24 hours a day to any potential tsunami threat, alert those at-risk coastal communities, and motivate them to take immediate and appropriate steps to save their lives.
Under the guidance of the ICG/IOTWMS, Member States collaborated in the development of the IOTWMS. The IOTWMS is a System of Systems with each National Tsunami Warning Centre (NTWC) of the 28 Member States issuing tsunami warnings to their respective communities based on the tsunami threat information provided by three Tsunami Service Providers (TSPs) of Australia, India and Indonesia.
Indian Ocean-wide tsunami exercises (IOWave) are effective tools for evaluating the readiness of the end-to-end Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigations System (IOTWMS) and for identifying changes that can improve its effectiveness. The ICG/IOTWMS notes the value of basin-wide tsunami exercises and drills and organizes them once in every 2 years providing an excellent opportunity for the IOTWMS member States to test their end-to-end Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and promoting Community awareness and response. Planning and preparation for these exercises is guided by a Task Team established by the ICG/IOTWMS during its sessional meetings. Trainings and Workshops are also organized by the ICG/IOTWMS to enhance the capacities of Member States to effectively participate in the tsunami exercises.
The IOTWMS was initially tested in the Indian Ocean-wide tsunami warning and response exercise IOWave09 held in October 2009 (IOC/2009/TS/88) and came into operation immediately following the IOWave11 that took place in October 2011 (IOC/2013/TS/99) exercise. The system was exercised again during IOWave14 in September 2014 (IOC/2015/TS/113Vol.1, Vol.2) and IOWave16 in September 2016 (IOC/2016/TS/128Vol.1, Vol.2). IOWave16 improved upon the previous exercises with all 24 active Member States participating, 12 of them exercising further down to the community level with about 60,000 people participating in the evacuation drills. The 11th Session of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTWMS-XI/3) held from 18 to 20 April 2017 in Putrajaya, Malaysia, established a Task Team to organise the next Indian Ocean-wide tsunami exercise (IOWave18) in the second half of 2018 and encouraged maximum participation from all Member States, where possible, to community level.