Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said a system similar to the existing Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, located in Hawaii, may have helped save lives.

“We’ll be getting in touch with those [affected] countries once the massive relief effort has died down in order to provide that sort of co-ordination and assistance,” said Mr Downer.

“We wouldn’t want to see the opportunity lost of saving lives in the future… out of a lack of any kind of warning system,” he said.

“I know it looks a bit like closing the door once the horse has bolted, but there will be tsunamis again in the future, thought hopefully never again on this scale.”

Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said they detected the massive undersea earthquake off Indonesia that generated the string of tsunamis, however said they were powerless to spread the word as they had no contacts in the Indian Ocean region.

“There was sufficient time between the time of the quake and the time of the tsunamis hitting some of the affected areas to have saved many lives if a proper warning system had been in place,” said US Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut.

Mr Downer said the Australian government agency Geoscience Australia already has a great deal of experience in measuring earthquakes.

“Geoscience Australia have a very sophisticated capability for measuring earthquakes in the region and that can be enhanced in order to assist with developing a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean region in coordination with other countries in the region,” he said.

The agency in September 2003 warned the lack of a warning system in the Indian Ocean could result in devastation.

Senior seismologist Phil Dunning said he proposed such a centre, but there was little appreciation of the risk.

“The historical record of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean isn’t very good and there’s very little data so there was very little awareness,” he said.

“I guess events have really caught up with us.”

Japan also said it would suggest a similar system at a disaster management conference in Kobe next month, and some other countries have said they are considering banding together to provided global tsunami warnings.

Director of the International Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii, Dr Laura Kong, said talks should begin at the Kobe conference.

“This is a real opportunity,” she said.

“Something is going to happen, it’s just a matter of how. We want to do this in a way that is inclusive and collaborative and on an international scale.”

But she conceded that even if such a system had been in place, it would probably not have given officials enough time to evacuate the coasts of badly-hit areas like Sumatra and Thailand.

INFORMATIONAsia’s quake: how to donateAsia’s quake: how did it happen?Photogallery – Asian quake disasterYour say – Do you have a first-hand experience of the quake and tsunami that struck Asia?Worldwatch – headlines from overseas mediaCONTACTSAustralians concerned about relatives or friends should call 1800 002 214.Australians in need of consular assistance should contact the consular emergency centre in Canberra on +61 1300 555 135.Australians in need of help in Phuket can contact a temporary consular office in Phuket’s Hilton Hotel, at 333 Thanon Patak (Patak Road), Karon Beach, phone (+66) 76 370 672.MORE STORIES FROM QUAKE AFFECTED AREAS

Indonesia “> Sri Lanka “> India “> Thailand “> Maldives
Malaysia “> Burma “> Somalia “> Kenya

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