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How to Survive a Tsunami

New Web site offers advice to coastal residents and visitors

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In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that devastated villages and cost 230,000 lives, WHOI geophysicist Jian Lin saw a need for an easy-to-use Web resource to inform large numbers of people about tsunamis.

“Tsunamis can neither be prevented nor precisely predicted yet,” said Lin, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). “But people educated about tsunami warning signs can save their own lives and the lives of others.”

Lin approached Chris Reddy, director of the WHOI Coastal Ocean Institute (COI), with an idea to create a new Web site to show tsunami warning signs, teach people what to do in the event of a tsunami, and explain tsunami-related science and technology.

“Jian was so passionate and presented such a powerful argument for this site that I was compelled to support it,” said Reddy.

Lin worked with WHOI Web Manager Danielle Fino and designers and editors in the WHOI Communications Department to create a Web site called "Tsunami: an interactive guide that could save your life." The site, which debuted in November 2009, is intended as a resource for residents and visitors in coastal zones vulnerable to tsunamis and for students at the middle-school level and higher grades. The site contains interactive features, animations, videos, stories from survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and tips on what to do before, during, and after a tsunami strikes.

Tsunamis are large waves generated by undersea earthquakes, landslides, or volcanic eruptions. They can travel through the ocean at hundreds of miles per hour and rise into towering water masses as they approach a shore. In September 2009, a tsunami resulting from an earthquake off Samoa killed 180 residents. The earthquake in Chile in February 2010 generated a significant tsunami that also caused deaths.

In May 2009, Lin, Reddy, and Fino gave a sneak preview of the site to WHOI Trustee Steven Hoch, who showed it to a close friend, Robert Briner, who was on the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean with his family when the 2004 tsunami struck. Briner arranged for the WHOI tsunami Web site to be brought to the attention of the Maldives government, and he is supporting the translation of the entire site into the Maldives' language, Dhivehi. The Maldives government and resorts on the islands will also distribute the site’s information in printed form to local people, since many lack computers. Plans are also underway to translate the site into Spanish.

Reddy said the Web site concerned one of the COI’s research themes—coastal hazards—and supported the Institute’s mission to communicate effectively to the lay public, policymakers, and media. The site’s success has spurred the COI to provide funding to create another Web site, led by WHOI biologist Becky Gast, to inform the public about the science and policy behind beach closures.

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Tsunami: an interactive guide that could save your life is a Web site that offers scientific background, warning signs, and survival strategies.

Jian Lin, a geophysicist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, retrieved a sediment core from the seafloor off Sumatra, the site of the underwater earthquake that generated the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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