Thailand failed to heed lessons of '04 tsunami

Don Sambandaraksa
18 Nov 2011

Thailand should have been well prepared for modern day disasters given the chaotic aftermath from the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Entire villages were wiped out and the number of dead and injured skyrocketed and jumped up and down with redundant, unreliable data and lack of ways for affected villages to communicate with central government. Seven years later, the water is back again wreaking havoc though on a much more drawn out scale with almost six hundred people dead, and rising.

Two lessons were learned after the Boxing day tsunami. One was the need for reliable communication networks when commercial GSM networks crash and the other was the need for clean data.

Well, the lessons were taught, but not quite learned.

The slow-motion tsunami almost seven years later that has ravaged half the country has shown that little has changed. Telcos have scrambled to fix their networks and for the past few weeks have been issuing periodic press updates as to the status of their networks in flood affected areas. But, by and large, they have held up through sheer luck and hard work rather than through any mission critical design.

Since 2004, many vendors have been extolling the need for a public safety network that runs apart from the civilian networks. Most vocally has been Motorola and its Tetra 2 solutions.

Tetra, terrestrial trunked radio, is a digital mobile open standard designed for use by police, fire, ambulance and other emergency forces. Like the consumer world, Tetra has evolved from being an analogue system to one with slow data and more recently to high speed data, TEDS (Tetra Enhanced Data Services). The design goals are quite different, going for coverage and penetration rather than capacity. TEDS devices in cars can act as high powered repeaters for handheld units so the officer going into a scene is not cut off from the network. It also allow for much higher (physical) speeds, such as for low-flying helicopters.

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