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Lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami


When: Tuesday, October 31, 2006
1 to 5 p.m.
Where: Lillie Auditorium
Corner of MBL and Water Streets
Woods Hole, Massachusetts

The colloquium is open to the public.

The 2004 tsunami was the first disaster in recent memory that affected so many countries simultaneously, making it a truly international catastrophe. Because of the sheer scale of its impact, this disaster broke new ground in many aspects of natural hazard management and response. How coastal communities manage risks associated with major tsunamis is an issue of global importance. The issue also has important implications for the general public on Cape Cod in managing other types of natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

Natural hazard mitigation is a complex endeavor that requires the integration of natural and social sciences. For example, an effective early warning system must include not only the ocean technologies for accurately detecting an emerging tsunami, but also a civil communication system through which the local government can effectively warn the population. Tsunami readiness involves two key components: awareness, which may be improved by educating key decision makers, emergency mangers, and the public about the nature of the hazard (the physical processes involved) and the threat it poses (its frequency of occurrence and impact); and mitigation, which can be improved through pre-event planning.

In recent years, disaster management has evolved from dealing with an event in isolation to adopting a policy of sustainable hazard mitigation, where hazard mitigation is viewed as an integral part of the much larger context of environmental sustainability. Communities must take responsibility for choosing where and how development proceeds, through the process of land-use planning. To that end, each locality evaluates its environmental resources and hazards, identifies what future losses it is willing to bear, and ensures that development and other community actions and policies conform to those judgments. Thus, an effective hazard mitigation program intrinsically requires ocean researchers to work closely with hazard management officers.

To establish a stronger link between the ocean research and engineering leadership of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and major national and international hazard mitigation programs, WHOI is organizing a colloquium on natural disaster management with a focus on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Falmouth public will have a unique opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the catastrophic event and what lessons have been learned from it, as well as learn of recent developments in disaster warning programs around the world.

The purposes of the Morss Colloquium are to:

  • Expose WHOI staff and the Falmouth public to key issues related to coastal disaster management and planning, as reflected in the 2004 tsunami;
  • Provide a forum for WHOI researchers and engineers to hear and discuss users’ perspectives on tsunami warning technologies;
  • Promote inter-disciplinary collaboration between natural and social scientists toward the development of a sustainable hazard mitigation program for coastal communities; and
  • Foster direct communication between WHOI and the United Nations, NOAA, and other agencies.

Discussions between natural and social scientists will focus on the identification of key research areas that have the greatest potential to improve the effectiveness of a warning system and improve hazard management planning. This will provide an opportunity for scientists and engineers to learn various potential applications of their work, and for managers and planners to learn what the scientific community can offer.

Distinguished Guest Lecturers

Dr. Stephen J. Atwood, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office
Dr. Philip R. Berke, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Dr. Emile A. Okal, Northwestern University

Colloquium Co-Conveners
Dr. Di Jin
, Marine Policy Center, WHOI
Dr. Jian Lin, Geology & Geophysics Department, WHOI

The colloquium is being sponsored by the Elisabeth and Henry Morss, Jr. Colloquia Fund of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Please contact Mary Schumacher ( or call the WHOI Public Information Office at 508-289-2252 for further information.

» View Lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Workshop website