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Sympathies to the victims of the 2011 Pacific Ocean tsunami

We are saddened by the multiple tragedies of the earthquake, dam break, nuclear station problem, local tsunami and teletsunami. We offer our condolences to the victims and our admiration and encouragement to the brave men and women doing the hard work of providing succor to the survivors.

More concretely, we are working on a media note summarizing lessons from our post 2004 tsunami research, which was on risk reduction, not on relief and recovery. Here below is a excerpt from the note. The full text is Pacific tsunami revised.

Japan is a country that knows how to deal with earthquakes and with tsunamis. Its buildings are constructed to code; its people are trained on how to respond from when they are in school. It is also a wealthy developed country and one that has a high population density. Therefore, the original hypothesis was that loss of life will be much less than in the case of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami while property losses will be much larger. First reports indicate that the early warning systems worked and the years of training citizens to respond appropriately yielded results. Yet the losses of life in Sendai, the city most affected by the local tsunami, indicate that more can be done in early warning and in disaster-resilient land-use planning and building construction.

In relation to the teletsunami that threatened the littoral countries of the Pacific Ocean, the risk-reduction measures appear to have worked, at least in the developed economies. The microstates of the Pacific islands have significant similarities with the Sri Lankan coastal communities that were studied as part of the HazInfo project. Whether or not the early warnings went through effectively to the last mile in those countries and whether those communities were prepared to respond appropriately remains to be seen.

The New York Times quotes experts on the same lines:

Initial reports from Ofunato on Friday suggested that hundreds of homes had been swept away; the death toll was not yet known. But Matthew Francis of URS Corporation and a member of the civil engineering society’s tsunami subcommittee, said that education may have been the critical factor.

“For a trained population, a matter of 5 or 10 minutes is all you may need to get to high ground,” Mr. Francis said.

That would be in contrast to the much less experienced Southeast Asians, many of whom died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because they lingered near the coast. Reports in the Japanese news media indicate that people originally listed as missing in remote areas have been turning up in schools and community centers, suggesting that tsunami education and evacuation drills were indeed effective.

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