Design and commissioning of a tsunami warning system in the Pacific

Security Cities & territorial development French Polynesia

Context and challenges

The risk of a tsunami is ever present in the Pacific Ocean, which is surrounded by a "ring of fire". The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC Hawaii) monitors risks of seismic events and water levels, supplying national warning centres with messages and notices in case of strong earthquakes and risks of tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean.

Since the tsunami of December 2004, France has focused on the risk looming over its Pacific territories (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna). Polynesia operates a seismic and volcanic activity monitoring centre (LDG), which is responsible for alerting the civil protection authorities of French Polynesia in case of a major seismic event.

Although the warning centres are effective throughout the region, the main obstacle to overcome is reaching "the last mile". The issue is ensuring that populations near to the source of a tsunami can react rapidly and that people living in remote and isolated areas are warned of the risk of submersion in time. This problem is all the more complicated for French Pacific areas which cover two immense Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of 5 million km² and 1.5 million km², 4,600 km apart and containing around 85 inhabited islands.

In this context, the national civil protection organisation appointed Assystem to deploy a tsunami warning system in the French Pacific (Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna), delivering preliminary design right through to commissioning.

Project scope

  • System design work: system architecture and supervision, communication with equipment deployed on site, sound coverage
  • Development, installation and commissioning of systems with the following features:
    • Electronic siren (4 to 12 units with a maximum range of 2.5 km)
    • Battery-powered control cabinet
    • Photovoltaic power supply (optional)
    • Inmarsat-C beacon with built-in GPS
    • On-board self-diagnostic system with real-time reporting
    • Uplink/downlink via satellite
    • Activation by system, island, archipelago, region, zone < 4 minutes
    • Test, alert and end of alert sound controls
    • Central control and supervision system
  • Introduction of basic technical training for community teams across French Polynesia


  • Provision of a public warning system in case of tsunami for the populations of the French Pacific, with extremely rapid activation in under 4 minutes across the whole coverage zone
  • Adaptation of the system to the specific features of the geographical area: especially large coverage zone, equipment adapted to tropical climate
  • Deployment of system in real warning cases, enabling to demonstrate the performance and suitability of technological choices, especially satellite transmission
  • Deployment of monthly tests for regular system upkeep
  • Client satisfaction, who wished to sign a comprehensive maintenance contract for all systems in New Caledonia

In figures


systems in Polynesia


systems in New Caledonia


systems on Wallis & Futuna


interoperable supervision centres

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