Our tsunami action station
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Our tsunami action station

It looks like the control room for a rocket launch in a Hollywood film – banks of computer monitors line up across the desks and massive screens line the wall showing beacons, maps, clocks and grids of data streaming in from across the globe.

But rather than the skies, its focus is underground – the centre is monitoring shifts deep within the earth, to predict the next great natural disaster.

This is the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre, located within the heart of the Geoscience Australia building at Symonston.

Co-director of the centre Daniel Jaksa said this one was just half of the centre, the other hub was located in the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne and together they measured earthquakes and calculated the risk of tsunamis.

Australia has long kept an eye on the risks coming in from the Pacific Ocean, Mr Jaksa said, however its monitoring of the Indian Ocean had come about after the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

"The Pacific tsunami warning system has been in place since the 1950s," he said.

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"People should not die from a tsunami that's coming across the ocean – not with the modern technology we have now and the ability to warn ahead of time.

"People who are caught in the kind of earthquake that generates a tsunami instantly need to be aware of the need to run uphill and not wait in the area.

"That was one of the very important lessons learned from Japan. It's important when you feel the earthquake and you are near the coastline you need to run uphill – do not drive your car.

"Because people got into traffic jams and didn't get out of their cars. Also – you don't go looking for other people, you don't go running to the coastline and find your mother or your brother. A lot of people died that way. They ran to the coast. If everybody runs to the hills more lives will be saved."

Mr Jaksa said the centre issued alerts to other nations when threats were detected but could not force them to take action. "The tsunami warnings go out to the responsible agencies in the countries to identify what is needed to be done and whether to evacuate or not," he said. "The government of Australia cannot issue an order to evacuate to another sovereign country – it's important for people to understand that.

"We cannot tell the people of Melaka to evacuate – we can tell the government it is coming and it's up them and their emergency services to go into action."