Every few years, the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Northeastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation system (ICG/NEAMTWS), under the auspices of UNESCO, conducts a Mediterranean-wide simulation and response exercise, called NEAMWave.
NEAMWave-21 took place between 8 – 10 March 2021. The aim of this exercise is to test the official national and international channels of communication, and emergency response actions taken by the authorities and scientific entities in the affected countries in the case of a tsunami threat.
The Central Mediterranean exercise was conducted on Tuesday 9 April. This region is served by the Centro Allerta Tsunami of the Istituto di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome (CAT-INGV) that is designated as one of the regional Tsunami Service Providers (TSP) in the Mediterranean. CAT-INGV is a 24-hour operation, with the mandate to monitor earthquakes and potential tsunamis, and issue tsunami alert messages to subscribed organisations. The Civil Protection Department (CPD) of Malta is subscribed to CAT-INGV.
In NEAMWave-21, the CPD, in collaboration with the Department of Geosciences, UM, participated actively in this important table-top exercise, observed by representatives of UNESCO, DG-ECHO and the Joint Research Centre, JRC (Ispra).
For this exercise, the procedure focussed on the village of Marsaxlokk. A magnitude 7.9 earthquake in the Ionian Sea, at 09:00 UTC, was simulated and an initial alert message was sent out by CAT-INGV, and received by CPD Malta. This immediately triggered the whole standard operating procedure involving continuously updated communication with important stakeholders such as the Armed Forces, Police, Health Authorities, University of Malta and Local Council, among others.
Simultaneously the Department of Geosciences carried out an independent modelling of the scenario earthquake and tsunami, in order to confirm the wave arrival times. The scenario tsunami would arrive at Malta’s east coast after around 57 minutes. Special Tsunami Alerting Device (TAD) digital panels were activated with continuously updated messages as the tsunami was confirmed, and instructions for the local population. The exercise ended with an “all clear” message at 13:00.
The table-top exercise also served as a preparation for a full-blown tsunami evacuation exercise which is planned to take place towards November 2021. This is the main component of the Tsunami Last Mile project, coordinated by JRC (Ispra) and led locally by the Department of Geosciences, through the Seismic Monitoring and Research Group (SMRG) and the Physical Oceanography Research Group (PO-Res.Grp). Within this project, the tsunami alert and evacuation procedure will be carried out in the village of Marsaxlokk, with the full participation of the CPD, who will be coordinating the evacuation. Two TAD panels and a long-range siren are being installed in Marsaxlokk. Moreover, a sea-level measuring device has been installed in Delimara by the PO-Res.Grp. to complement another wave and sea level measurement device at the mouth of Marsaxlokk harbour. The SMRG, together with the PO-Res.Grp., is responsible for the numerical modelling of the wave propagation and inundation from a scenario earthquake and tsunami.
It is hoped that such preparatory operations and simulation exercises, together with an increased level of collaboration between UM and CPD, will serve to increase awareness about tsunami risk on our islands, as well as assessing the level of preparedness and actions needed on the part of the local authorities.