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As nations in South and South-East Asia come to terms with the effects of last week's tsunami, which claimed tens of thousand of lives, officials are calling for a tsunami alert system for the Indian Ocean to be set up.

Such a system would require technology, trained staff, and communications systems allowing coordinated responses across the region. Japan — which is particularly prone to earthquakes and tsunamis — has offered technical assistance.

In this article, Bennett Richardson describes Japan's tsunami detection system, and how the technology could help reduce impacts of future earthquakes in the Indian Ocean.

Japan spends US$20 million a year on a system of 300 earthquake sensors relaying real-time information by satellite to centres that coordinate evacuation warnings and other responses to imminent tsunamis. Japanese technology developed in the past 12 months allows the size, speed, and direction of a tsunami to be calculated and transmitted in seconds.

A tsunami alert system was set up in the Pacific Ocean in 1965 and now covers 26 countries in the Pacific Rim. However, no such system exists in the Indian Ocean, where an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered the 26 December tsunami.

The lack of an alert system is thought to have contributed to the high death toll in countries — such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand — far from the earthquake's epicentre.

Link to full article in The Christian Science Monitor