Where’s the quake information?

The Indian government must provide timely, accurate, accessible information on natural disasters

The Indian Ocean tsunami that resulted in the deaths of around 20,000 Indian citizens (and displacement of around 700,000) occurred less than five years ago. The human tragedy of the earthquakes in Kashmir (October 2005) and Gujarat (January 2001) are also relatively fresh in public memory. After these natural disasters you would have thought that the Indian government would be a little more active in disseminating timely, accurate and relevant information regarding seismic events. And you would be wrong.

The online edition of the Times of India reported a 7.6 magnitude earthquake off the coast of the Andaman islands at 7:55 UTC on 10th of August. It was a wire service report, quoting the US Geological Service (USGS). The USGS site provides a summary, measurement details, maps and other information, including a link to a tsunami alerts. Its Indian counterpart, in comparison, only showed a terse ‘preliminary’ report stating the location of the quake and its magnitude. Neither the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) nor the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had any useful information about the nature of the quake and the risk of a tsunami.

There is, however, a ‘crowdsourced’ website that provides such information based on secondary (reported) information. The Amateur Seismic Centre is a commendable initiative, run by one Stacey Martin who started it in June 2000 as “a one-stop guide to earthquakes in India as well as south Asia.” It puts the Government of India to shame. (See its report on today’s quake)

The UPA government has shown itself adept at creating new bureaucracies after disaster strikes. It does not seem to be capable of doing the relatively trifling—but crucial and life-saving—things such disseminating timely information.

Update: Amit Varma wrote about last night: even the Indian mainstream media was late in reporting it.

Update: On 12th August, The Hindu reports that India’s National Tsunami Warning Centre had issued an alert six minutes after the quake. Why then didn’t the media pick it up, while they picked up the USGS report?