Skip to content

Lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Topic of Public Forum


October 16, 2006

How coastal communities manage risks associated with major tsunamis is an issue of global importance following the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 200,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage in 11 nations. The issue also has important implications for the general public on Cape Cod and in coastal communities throughout the United States in managing other types of natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

“Lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami” will bring together a distinguished group of speakers on the science of underwater earthquakes and tsunamis, natural hazard management and response, and regional planning. This first annual Elisabeth and Henry Morss Jr. Colloquium at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will be held on Tuesday, October 31, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Lillie Auditorium in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  The event is free and open to the public.

“The 2004 tsunami was an international catastrophe,” said Dr. Jian Lin, a senior scientist in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department and co-convener of the first Morss Colloquium. “Scientists still know very little about how underwater earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides trigger tsunamis. We need to learn everything we can from the 2004 tsunami in order to progress toward more accurate forecasting of future tsunamis.”

A generous gift from Elisabeth W. and Henry A. Morss, Jr. has enabled the Institution to establish a fund to support public colloquia on issues of global importance that are connected to human society and involve science. “Lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami” is designed to expose WHOI staff and the public to key issues related to coastal disaster management and planning, and to provide a forum for WHOI researchers and engineers to hear and discuss users’ perspectives on tsunami warning technologies. The colloquium will also promote collaboration between natural and social scientists toward the development of a sustainable hazard mitigation program for coastal communities, and encourage closer communication between WHOI and the United Nations, NOAA, and other agencies.

“Understanding how the science translates to public policy, and how that policy translates into practice is critical,” said Dr. Di Jin, an associate scientist in the WHOI Marine Policy Center and co-convener of the Morss Colloquium. “Ocean scientists, disaster management experts and regional land-use planners need to share their knowledge and work together toward a sustainable hazard mitigation program.”

Speakers will include Dr. Stephen J. Atwood, UNICEF regional advisor and recent director of tsunami operations in Indonesia, Dr. Philip R. Berke, an environmental planner and professor and director of graduate studies in city and regional planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dr. Emile A. Okal, a professor of geology and expert on tsunami and earthquake research at Northwestern University.

Dr. Atwood has been actively involved in emergency response activities since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and was recently on special assignment as Director of Emergency Operations for the tsunami recovery effort in Indonesia. He advises the UNICEF Country Offices in the East Asia and Pacific Region in the formulation and application of health, nutrition, water, and sanitation policies. A graduate of Dartmouth Medical School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who has specialized in pediatrics, Dr. Atwood also represents UNICEF in global and regional forums for programmatic and strategic collaboration in health initiatives.

Dr. Berke’s current research projects address domestic and international issues in the areas of land use planning, natural hazard mitigation, and sustainable development. He has served as a consultant on land use and environmental planning to state and local governments, as a hazard mitigation specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and as a consultant on disaster recovery to international disaster relief organizations.

Dr. Okal has extensive field experience in post-tsunami investigation and survey, including, most recently, as leader of two teams that assessed the effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Madagascar and Oman. In addition to authoring nearly 200 scientific publications, he collaborated in the development of TREMORS, an automated distant earthquake detection system that allows the estimation of tsunami risk and is now deployed in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Chile.

A workshop on interactions between tsunamis and underwater geological processes will be held in conjunction with the first Morss Colloquium and includes invited talks, posters, and discussion sessions. It is open to U.S. and international researchers, engineers, tsunami program managers, and graduate students.