Report presented to Disaster Management Center, Sri Lanka, that provides insights into their local responses in tsunami warning services, evacuation, and sheltering during COVID-19

In July 2022, the project team presented a report to the Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center that identified specific findings for the country from a region-wide survey that was conducted to better understand local responses in tsunami warning services, evacuation, and sheltering to COVID-19. The report focused on the responses from Sri Lanka and also looked to understand the uptake of the Guidelines for Tsunami Warning Services, Evacuation, and Sheltering during COVID-19, which were issued by the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTWMS) in June 2020.

The findings provide insights into the impact of COVID-19 on local tsunami warning services and response in the Indian Ocean and can be used to inform future capacity building efforts and research in Sri Lanka, and across the wider region.

The survey targeted the fourteen of Sri Lanka’s twenty-five districts that are located on the coastal belt and was conducted using the SurveyMonkey platform from 26th April to 30th June 2022.

The results suggest that despite not experiencing a tsunami warning event during this period, Sri Lanka’s District based Disaster Management units experienced a high level of impact on their role in tsunami warning and evacuation response.

There is a high level of awareness at the district level about the COVID-19 guidelines that were issued by ICG/IOTWMS, and most organisations have found them useful in informing their response to the pandemic. Standard operating procedures and contingency plans have been updated to address COVID-19 health protocols. However, the results do suggest that there were some variations in the changes enacted across Districts.

Tsunami assembly areas and shelters in many districts have been used for COVID-19 treatment, while many have reduced the capacity of assembly areas and shelters to reflect social distancing protocols.  Capacity reductions ranged from 40% to 75%. In such cases, alternative buildings / areas have usually been identified for use in case of a tsunami evacuation, including schools, hotels/guest houses and places of worship. Multiple channels have been widely used to inform the public about any changes to tsunami shelter arrangements during COVID-19, especially public announcements, social media, and electronic media.

Just over half of respondents indicated that hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities being used to treat COVID-19 patients in their Districts, were also located in a tsunami hazard zone.  The responses indicate a high-level awareness at the District level about both the added complications of a dual tsunami and pandemic threat to healthcare facilities, and also of the contingency plans put in place to address the associated risks.

Specific guidance recommended in the ICG/IOTWMS Guidelines for Tsunami Warning Services, Evacuation, and Sheltering during COVID-19 has been issued to relevant authorities and evacuation staff involved in Sri Lanka’s tsunami early warning. There appears to be strong uptake of this guidance and a high level of awareness among respondents at the District level. Many respondents also referred to guidance provided by the Ministry of Health in a handbook issued for Managing Safety Centers During Covid-19. There was also a high level of awareness among respondents of a ‘track and trace system’ in place to record information of people at shelters, and to subsequently manage any COVID-19 transmissions and clusters resulting from the sheltering.

Although many changes to tsunami early warning have been enacted in response to COVID-19, based on their experiences, several gaps and recommendations were identified by respondents. These included:

  • Plans should include the arrangements for pregnant mothers and children, covid-19 patients, and elders, including transportation
  • Additional measures / special consideration is required for night events or power failures
  • The existing tsunami operational plan should be updated to specifically address a pandemic / multi-hazard situation