Strong community awareness and preparedness are being cited for last week's successful evacuation of more than one million Sri Lankans after a tsunami alert was triggered by an 8.6 magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, IRIN said.
The earthquake occurred 440km southwest of Banda Aceh, the city most impacted by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, which left over 230,000 people dead across more than a dozen countries, including more than 35,000 in Sri Lanka.
This time, more than 1,500 coastal communities from Puttalam District in the west to Jaffna District at the very northern tip of the island were evacuated in less than two hours.
Village level committees, set up under Disaster Management Center (DMC) supervision, were activated to oversee and assist in the evacuations, and on a national level the DMC office in Colombo, coordinated with district level committees and DMC district sub-units.
Nationwide alerts were sent out on radio, television and mobile phone networks, while the police and armed services were mobilized to communicate the warning to villages. At the same time, 75 tsunami warning towers along the coast were activated to set off sirens.
Although some towers failed to work property, the vast majority did, alerting coastal residents to the potential threat throughout this island nation. Many people had participated in awareness training and drills in recent years.
"Both globally and regionally people are much more aware now," said Bob McKerrow, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Sri Lanka. He had been travelling along the southern Sri Lankan coast when the warning came, and said he witnessed firsthand the orderly manner of the evacuation. "The awareness levels were quite high," he confirmed.