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[HYDERABAD] India's tsunami warning centre in Hyderabad became operational today (1 October), less than three years since the country's southern coast was devastated by the Asian tsunami.

The Rs 12,500 million (US$314 million) centre, located at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), is now operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It receives data via satellite from six ocean buoys — four in the Bay of Bengal and two in the Arabian Sea — equipped with water pressure sensors to detect any rise in water levels.

Six more back-up buoys will be ready in the next two months.

There are two faults in the Indian Ocean that could cause a tsunami and the Bay of Bengal, extending from the West Bengal coast in India to Myanmar, also faces the risk of tsunami-generating earthquakes (see Tsunami risk for Bay of Bengal).

The centre's interim system was tested by the quake that hit Indonesia on 12 September. While the Asia Pacific tsunami warning system issued an alert for India, the model run by INCOIS showed the waves were travelling in a southeasterly direction and would not hit the Indian coast.

"We have to be careful about false alarms, or else the public will lose confidence in the system," says INCOIS director Shailesh Nayak. 

India has maintained it will share data from the tsunami warning system with neighbouring countries and with the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning system in Indonesia, but will continue to develop its own system independently.   

INCOIS is also holding talks about data sharing with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Indian tsunami warning system operates using three tiers — watch, alert and warning — depending on the size of the waves detected. Small waves, where it is unlikely damage will be caused to India, initiate a "watch" and information is circulated to scientific departments to monitor the situation.

The centre issues an "alert" to science departments and administration officials to be prepared to evacuate for larger waves. There are two alerts, an orange alert which is not made public, and a red alert when the public is advised to prepare to evacuate if necessary.

For large tsunami waves that could cause damage, the centre issues "warning" which means actual evacuation begins.