NOAA Reflects on 10 Years Since Indian Ocean Tsunami

By Christa Rabenold, NOAA/National Weather Service Tsunami Program

Since the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, NOAA has made great improvements in tsunami detection, forecasting, warning, and preparedness capabilities. As a result, U.S. and international coastal communities are far better prepared to respond to a tsunami. 

In 2004, NOAA’s National Weather Service staffed two tsunami warning centers eight hours a day, five days a week with on-call coverage, providing service for a limited geography. These centers relied on seismic data from the Global Seismographic Network (GSN), only 80 percent of which was transmitted in real-time, and water-level data from six experimental Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoy stations in the Pacific Ocean and a network of coastal water-level stations that provided data in one-hour cycles. 

Today, the centers are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and their areas of responsibility have been expanded to include all U.S. and Canadian coastlines. In addition, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is the primary international forecast center for the Pacific and Caribbean Basins. The GSN has been fully upgraded (thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners) to transmit 100 percent of its data in real-time, and NOAA has upgraded its seismic networks in Alaska and Hawaii. A global network of 60 DART buoy stations (39 are U.S. owned and operated) now monitors tsunami activity in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. And, 188 coastal water-level stations have been installed or upgraded to support tsunami warning operations by providing data in one-minute cycles. 

The centers use data from these networks as inputs to tsunami forecast models developed by NOAA. These models enable the provision of accurate, reliable, and real-time inundation forecasts, significantly improving upon the capability that existed in 2004. Inundation models, also developed by NOAA, are used by coastal states and communities to create maps that define tsunami hazard and evacuation zones and support community planning.

The last decade also marked the completion of the U.S. States and Territories National Tsunami Hazard Assessment and improvements to the quality of the long-term archive of tsunami events. As knowledge about the threat increased, so did interest in efforts to improve tsunami awareness and preparedness. In the last 10 years, the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program has expanded from 5 to 28 partner states and territories. And, the National Weather Service’s TsunamiReady program has grown from 14 designated sites to 181 and counting. 

Despite the advances in technology and hazard assessment, people who live, work, or play at the coast must understand and be prepared for tsunamis. While tsunamis cannot be prevented, there are things that individuals can do to protect themselves and their loved ones. To help educate the public about what to do before, during, and after a tsunami, the National Weather Service has launched a new online tsunami safety resource at http://www.weather.gov/tsunamisafety

Additionally, NOAA has taken on a vital role in the global tsunami warning system. This includes providing international warning, training, data exchange, and outreach and education assistance and using international data, communications, and research to carry out the agency’s mission, both internationally and domestically.

NOAA’s work is not done. The 2004 event was a catalyst for the development of a national plan for tsunami research and the transfer of the resulting technology to operations. Through this plan, NOAA continues to make advances in tsunami detection, forecasting, and warning, with an aim to further improve the accuracy and timeliness of alerts and the accessibility of actionable information. 

Learn more at http://1.usa.gov/1Ivmf7i.