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Government Prepares Against Natural Disasters with Early Warning Systems

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As the world watched the swirling wind and rain engulf New York City and America's Eastern Seaboard last month; the collective thought was one of fear and compassion.

On the one hand there was concern for the wellbeing of people in the afflicted region. But there was also shock as we witnessed one of the biggest and most developed cities on earth powerless to protect itself against a natural disaster of the scale of Hurricane Sandy.

Worryingly, such disasters are a rapidly growing trend.

From the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the catastrophic Boxing Day Tsunami and the destructive earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, there is clear evidence that the natural world can be as terrible as it is beautiful – and such occurrences are becoming more regular.

But despite the apparent helplessness in some situations, governments have begun to realise that it pays to be prepared.

And that doesn't just mean in terms of saving human lives, it means saving entire livelihoods. After all, the economic damage of such natural disasters can be just as devastating as the human toll.

Thankfully here in Malaysia, the Federal Government is well aware of the dangers and has effectively developed counter measures.

The Dewan Rakyat was told on Thursday that the country was at risk of both mild and more worryingly, moderate earthquakes.

Science, Technology and Innovation Deputy Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof said this was discovered following a long-term study by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) that ended in 2009.

Recent data confirmed this and the Deputy Minister referred to tremors recorded in Beluran, Kota Marudu, Kudat and Tambunan in Sabah between September and November of this year.

Fadilah announced that 25 sensors are to be set up nationwide to detect and provide early warnings of earthquakes and the after-effect of seismic activity.

Fifteen have so far been installed, ten in the Klang Valley with the remaining sensors to be installed nationwide by 2014.

According to the study, Sabah and Sarawak are more at risk of moderate quakes while Peninsular Malaysia faces a milder threat.

Being more aware of the threats can give the Government, along with the planners and developers it works with, a better chance of preparing for the future.

"For example, it has been proposed that the seismic natural rubber bearings be used in the construction the Penang Second Bridge," Fadillah said.

There are many more schemes similarly designed to protect us from the threats posed by the natural world.

The Drainage and Irrigation Department (JPS) for example recently revealed plans to overcome flash floods in the Klang Valley, in particular hotspots in Kuala Lumpur.

Using a high tech radar system developed in Japan, the so-called Polarimetric Doppler, the JPS hopes to gain the edge with an early warning device that can give residents the time they need to prepare.

"The current Radar takes about 10 minutes to provide a record of rainfall but the new radar system can provide the required report in a minute," JPS Hydrology and Water Resources Division director Datuk Hanapi Mohamad Noor said of the RM3 million system.

"JPS depends heavily on the radar in Subang, managed by the Malaysian Meteorological Department. We receive reports every 10 minutes but such data is not fast enough to forecast flash floods in the Klang valley."

Fadillah also noted that a global positioning system (GPS) and remote sensing monitoring schemes were now in place to measure flood threats from the sea – in particular tsunamis.

These can provide up to ten minutes of warning for citizens living in at-risk areas on the coast and further inland near rivers. It may seem a trifling amount of time, but those minutes could be vital in saving lives.

As the countermeasures stack up, Malaysians can feel more and more protected by the work of our scientists and our leaders. If the worst does happen, we can at least be sure that we haven't just ignored an increasingly serious problem.

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