5 Years After Deadly Indonesia Tsunami, Communities Better Prepared

December 18, 2009

Five years after a Sumatra Indonesia tsunami killed 230,000 people, officials say that more communities are taking the threat seriously, implementing warning systems and understanding that swift action is needed if a threat arises.

Since that tsunami devastated communities around the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says it has received more than $90 million to expand the nation’s tsunami detection and warning capabilities. It has also received an additional $135 million for research, education and community preparedness, and for a global tsunami warning network and technology program.

In December 2004, lack of an effective international warning system contributed to unprecedented loss of life. Through NOAA, the U.S accelerated preparation for a potential tsunami along the U.S. coastline and efforts to build partnerships for an international warning program.

As a result of this investment in NOAA, the nation and the world are better prepared for the next big tsunami, according to NOAA, which cites a number of encouraging developments:

  • In 2004, 11 U.S. communities were prepared for a tsunami through the TsunamiReady program. Today, NOAA recognizes 72 communities as TsunamiReady.
  • In 2004, five states were members of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. Today, 29 U.S. coastal states, territories, and commonwealths are members.
  • In 2004, the two U.S. tsunami warning centers were staffed eight hours a day, five days per week with on-call coverage. Today, both centers are staffed 24 hours per day, 365 days per year and their areas of responsibility now include all Indian Ocean and Caribbean nations as well as all of the U.S. and Canadian coastlines.
  • In 2004, NOAA had no high-resolution tsunami models available for forecasting the impact of a tsunami along U.S. coastlines. Today, the two U.S. tsunami warning centers have 43 high-resolution models for real-time inundation forecasts for tsunami threatened coastal communities.
  • In 2004, six experimental tsunami buoys was in place. Today, 39 buoy stations have been deployed around the Pacific Rim and in the Atlantic.
  • In 2004, no national plan existed for tsunami research. Today, NOAA says it has a plan in place that will make improvements to warning operations at a reduced cost, develop the next generation of forecast models to address local tsunami threats, and incorporate more social science.
  • In 2004, there was no functional international coordination outside the Pacific. Today, the U.S. provides other countries with technical assistance, improved preparedness and capacities, and equipment to detect and communicate tsunami threats. In addition, the U.S. now promotes sharing of data, best practices and policies, and has established education and training programs in several countries.

According to NOAA tsunami experts, the key to surviving a tsunami is people’s ability to receive warnings and willingness to act quickly to move inland or to higher ground.

“NOAA has strong capabilities to detect tsunamis and issue warnings, but at the end of the day we need people to pay attention to these warnings and immediately move to high ground to save their own lives,” said Jenifer Rhoades, tsunami program manager at NOAA’s National Weather Service. “A violent or persistent ground shake is nature’s warning. Don’t wait to take action. This knowledge can save countless lives, as it did when the recent tsunami struck American and Independent Samoa.”

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