Five Years Since Deadly Tsunami; Are We Ready for the Next One?

| by NOAA

In December 2004, lack of an effective international warning system contributed to unprecedented loss of life when a tsunami devastated countless communities around the Indian Ocean and stunned the rest of the world. Through NOAA, the United States accelerated preparation for a potential tsunami along the U.S. coastline and efforts to build partnerships for an international warning program. According to NOAA tsunami experts, the key to surviving a destructive tsunami is people’s ability to receive warnings and willingness to act quickly to move inland or to higher ground.

“NOAA is advancing tsunami science and warning systems for America and many at-risk parts of the world,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Our efforts cannot stop with researching, developing technology and issuing forecasts – successful early warning ultimately relies on communicating the threat clearly so a prepared population will be able to act responsibly.”

Since 2004, NOAA has received more than $90 million to expand the nation’s tsunami detection and warning capabilities, and an additional $135 million for research, integrated observing systems, hazard mitigation through education and community preparedness, and for a global tsunami warning and education network and technology transfer program.

As a result of this investment, the nation and the world are better prepared for the next big tsunami. Consider:

* 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, the number of water level stations directly supporting tsunami detection was limited, and high-frequency data were not available. Today, 164 water level stations have been installed or upgraded to fully support tsunami warning operations.

* In 2004, 80 percent of the Global Seismographic Network data was transmitted in real-time. Today, with the support of the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners, the network has been fully upgraded to transmit 100 percent of its seismic data in real-time. In addition, NOAA upgraded its seismic networks in Alaska and Hawaii and developed and implemented new seismic processing capabilities to resolve the nature of seismic events more efficiently, significantly reducing the time to issue tsunami watches and warnings.

* In 2004, a network of six experimental tsunami buoys was in place. Today, an expanded network of 39 buoy stations has been operationally deployed around the Pacific Rim and in the Atlantic.

* In 2004, no national plan existed for tsunami research. Today, NOAA 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, archived quality-controlled tsunami data was limited to three gigabytes of information. Today, that archive has grown to 3.2 terabytes, representing a 2000 percent increase in available data used for tsunami analysis.

* In 2004, there was no functional international coordination outside the Pacific. Today, the United States provides other countries with technical assistance, improved preparedness and capacities, and equipment to detect and communicate tsunami threats. In addition, the United States now promotes sharing of data, best practices and policies, and has established education and training programs in several countries.

“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.”

Warning Signs of a Tsunami

* A strong earthquake, or one that persists
* A sudden rise or fall of the ocean tide
* A loud, roaring sound (like an airplane or a train) coming from the ocean
* Tsunami warnings broadcast over television and radio, by beach lifeguards, community sirens, text message alerts, NOAA tsunami warning center Web sites and on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards.

What You Should Do if You See These Signs

* Don’t panic
* Immediately move inland to higher ground, or into a tall building and stay there
* Turn on your radio or television to learn if there is a tsunami warning
* Stay away from the coast until officials issue an “all clear” - Remember that a tsunami may be a series of waves lasting several hours.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.