Has tsunami detection and monitoring improved from 2004 to 2011?

Posted on March 20, 2011  /  2 Comments

At LIRNEasia we consider every disaster, however tragic, an opportunity to learn. Among the disasters we have analyzed are the 2010 evacuation orders in Sri Lanka, the reaction to the Bengkulu earthquake and ensuing tsunami alert in 2007, and even the Cyclone that devastated Burma/Myanamar.

Here is our contribution to the analysis of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the ensuing local tsunami and teletsunami. It has been published in multiple places. The excerpt below is from Asian Sentinel.

The earthquake occurred at 14:46 Japan Standard Time near the Pacific coast of Japan’s Honshu Island. The first tsunami warning was issued just six minutes later, at 14:50 by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), an extraordinary achievement which suggests a direct link between the signals from the sensors and the public warning system, excluding human decision making in the middle.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued its first warning in 14 minutes back in 2004. Given the many weak links in the warning chains back then, the warning didn’t reach all of the countries, with devastating results. Some 230,000 people died in 14 countries. In the current tsunami, the warning center produced the alarm within nine minutes.

The additional resources poured into tsunami detection have paid off. At the warning center in Hawai’i, a qualified geophysicist looks at the data from the sensors before issuing the warning. Thus the process cannot take less than nine minutes. But the 2011 tsunami experience may tip the scales in favor of the automated Japanese approach.


  1. Here’s what the Canadians in British Columbia are doing, as they prepare for a big one – http://www.theprovince.com/news/tests+quake+readiness+March/4440610/story.html

    keep in mind the published event on March 23rd is a drill and not an actual event.