Successful launch of Tonga’s early-warning system

The final station in the current phase of the new early-warning system was set up and tested in August 2008. The system issues warnings in the event of natural hazards such as storms, tropical cyclones, tsunamis or earthquakes. It also provides a general data transfer service and ensures optimised crisis communications.

Following months of work, a radio network has now been set up that services Nuku’alofa, Vava’u und Ha’apai, part of the Pacific island Kingdom of Tonga. Financed by the Munich Re Foundation, the network is designed to provide comprehensive sharing of monitoring data. This will facilitate the transfer of key environmental information on air pollution and sea temperatures, aeronautical information, weather reports and forecasts, and other data.

If an emergency strikes, the early-warning system is activated. Tonga is exposed to various natural hazards such as storms, tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. There has been no reliable means of communication for the more remote islands in the event of an emergency until now. Safety concerns made it necessary to shut down the previous, satellite-backed system when wind speeds exceeded 120 km/h. The new radio frequencies ensure non-stop data-sharing. Moreover, Tonga is now linked to the RANET Pacific data network and EMWIN (Emergency Managers Weather Information Network) warning service.

Boost for further expansion

Local scientists and experts attended courses on technology and data sharing organised by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the NOAA (the USA’s National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration). Constant maintenance and repairs are vital to ensure that the equipment continues to provide long-term service in the changeable tropical climate.

Now that the system is in place, Tonga’s Meteorological Services and National Disaster Management Office are keen to press forward with expansion plans. The government of the island kingdom has already approved a scheme to extend the system to include Niuafo’ou, Niuatoputapu and Eua.

23 September 2008

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