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Tsunami, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Volcanic Eruptions and other Natural and Man-Made Hazards and Disasters


International Cooperation in the Field of Tsunami Research and Warning

George Pararas-Carayannis

(Excerpts from a presentation at the Second International Tsunami Workshop on the Technical Aspects of Tsunami Warning Systems, Tsunami Analysis, Preparedness, Observation and Instrumentation. Novosibirsk, USSR, 4-5 August 1989 . Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Workshop Report No. 58 - Supplement. )


Tsunami disasters have posed a major threat to the coastal populations of the Pacific and of inland seas. In the past four decades alone, tsunamis have been responsible for the loss of thousands of lives and of millions in property damage (Pararas-Carayannis, 1982). Although advances have been made in our understanding of the tsunami phenomenon and we have established effective international cooperation in warning systems, these advances have been offset by population growth in the different countries particularly because of the development of the coastal zones. Thus, the tsunami risk and vulnerability of the people living in the coastal areas have increased and will continue to increase. More than ever, international cooperation is needed to mitigate the effects of the tsunami disasters.

Recently, the United Nations passed a resolution designating the 1990's as the Decade, during which the international community will enhance cooperation in natural disaster mitigation. The objective of the Decade is to reduce loss of life, property damage and the social and economic disruption associated with natural disasters. The~goal of the Decade is to improve the capability to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, particularly through the use of early warning systems, through proper training and education, through dissemination and application of existing knowledge and information, and through proper scientific and engineering research. It is recognized that these goals can be achieved by the concerted action of nations, and will require international programs of cooperation and assistance to acquire the necessary knowledge and to apply the results.

Of all the natural disasters, the tsunami disaster has probably received more attention in the mitigation of its effects. This is because, in contrast to other natural disasters which have localized effects, tsunamis have affected adversely the coastal regions of many nations far away from the region of their origin.

The Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific is an example of how the tsunami disaster can be mitigated through international cooperation, concerted research, the sharing of knowledge and information, and meetings and workshops such as these. We should take pride in knowing that our international cooperative efforts to mitigate the tsunami disaster started over 25 years ago, long before the Decade was proclaimed, and that tsunami is probably the only disaster that has been dealt so effectively on an international scale. This has been made possible through the leadership of IOC in forming the ITSU Group, and the generosity of the member nations in contributing their resources and sharing their knowledge and information (Pararas-Carayannis, 1988 b).

Let us take a look of how the tsunami disaster can be mitigated further through continued international cooperation. International cooperation will be necessary in many areas. More specifically in:

Scientific and Engineering Research

Evaluation and Prediction Capability

Development of the Pacific and Regional Warning Systems

Development of Operational and Emergency Preparedness

Development of Planning and Zoning Criteria

Public Education and Awareness

Scientific and Engineering Research

Central to the successful implementation of the principles of the International Decade in the reduction of the effects of the tsunami disaster is the undertaking of appropriate applied-type of scientific and engineering research. Note that I use the word applied. Theoretical type of research is useful in understanding the phenomenon itself, but it does not result in hazard mitigation. Our goal should be to define and segregate an appropriate applied-type of research program and to develop engineering standards. It will be necessary to choose study topics that focus attention on specific remaining problems.

International cooperation, through a group such as ours, will be needed to identify such problems and allow an~terdisciplinary approach to this solution without unnecessary overlap or dispersion of effort. Furthermore, through international cooperation the results of such studies would be shared and applied uniformly for the common good.

For example, the suggestion was made at the beginning of the Tsunami Symposium that we standardize the methodology of determining the tsunami risk and that we apply standardized methods of determining tsunami inundation and the delineation of evacuation zones. This can be done through the use of appropriate numerical modeling and standardization of engineering criteria. Through such standardization and international cooperation, nations threatened by tsunamis could develop proper coastal management policies.

Evaluation and Prediction Capability

An area where international cooperation will prove to be most valuable will be in the further development of tsunami evaluation and prediction capability using current technology of satellite data telemetry and communications, and use of microcomputers. Adequate state of the art seismic and water level instrumentation, rapid telemetry and telecommunications are needed, both for data acquisition and for warning dissemination. These are the most important components for an effective national or regional Tsunami Warning System. The Pacific Tsunami Warning System presently makes use of an extensive seismic and water level instrumentation network that has been made possible through the generous support of member nations of ITSU, through cooperative programs between many agencies and national governments, and through programs such as the International Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere (TOGA) Sea Level Program (Pararas Carayannis, 1 988 b).

Continuous international cooperation will be needed~to enhance the Pacific Warning System's capability, and that of regional warning systems. Furthermore, international cooperation will be needed for sharing the knowledge on operational procedures of assessment and evaluation that are being developed, as for example, in French Polynesia, Japan, Soviet Union, and the United States. We heard some very good papers in the last few days on new techniques of evaluation and prediction that can be used by the international community.

Development of Pacific and Regional Warning Systems

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System and other regional and national tsunami warning systems continue to develop their capabilities utilizing computers and new communications tech~ology. However, high tsunami risk regions exist in the world where tsunami warnings cannot be issued in time to be of any usefulness. At least six hazardous tsunamis have occurred since 1976, with great loss of life and property, in areas where warnings could not be issued promptly. If appropriate regional systems existed, warning information could (Pararas-Carayannis, 1982) have been released to the public within minutes permitting evacuation of most of the coastal population to safer places. Such regional systems, equipped with proper instrumentation, can reduce the time needed to evaluate the tsunami hazard, make decisions, and disseminate the warnings on a regional basis. Thus, many lives can be saved and damage to property can be reduced. During the last few years, new operational concepts have been developed that can improve the performance of a regional tsunami warning ~v~tern. These concepts utilize modern technology, computers, and instrumentation, including shore-based seismic and tidal sensors, and real time telemetry. There is a need for regional tsunami warning systems, in the South-West Pacific, in South America, and in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Considering the regional nature and complex content of such proposed regional tsunami warning systems, international financial assistance and expertise are required to implement them. Such support can only come from international organizations and need the endorsement and counterpart contributions of national governments. Such regional projects would have considerable benefits for the countries involved, and such efforts would be well within the scope and intent of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR).

Development of Operational and Emergency Preparedness

The key element to tsunami hazard mitigation is a tsunami warning system. But regardless of how sophisticated a warning system may be, all it can do is issue a warning. The effectiveness of the system is judged by what Civil Defense Agencies do with a warning. These agencies must have an effective Operational and Emergency Preparedness Plan to act on the warning and disseminate it rapidly and effectively to the public. This can be done only if there is an established operating plan designating infrastructural communications and responsibilities. Furthermore, it is Civil Defense Agencies and not the Tsunami Warning Centers, that are responsible for establishing plans for evacuation or other preventative measures to be taken before a tsunami strikes. Also they have the responsibility for training their own people by holding frequent exercises and by educating the public on a continuous basis (Pararas Carayannis, 1988a).

Most of the countries that are members of the TWS have developed such Operational and Emergency Preparedness. However, others have not developed or coordinated adequately their organizational infrastructure so they can deal effectively with an emergency situation. Obviously, international cooperation and assistance are required in assisting such countries with the formulation of a standard emergency operational plan, with the conduct of Tsunami exercises, and with training of government officials. This workshop is an example of such international cooperation but, obviously, it is not sufficient. Efforts should be made by a Group such as ours, to establish more frequent training programs and of longer duration, particularly for developing countries or for countries that have recently decided to do something about planning for their tsunami hazard. Manuals and exercise scenarios can be prepared to assist with training for operational and emergency preparedness.

Development of Planning and Zoning Criteria

The tsunami risk is not evenly distributed along a threatened coastline. Because of the extreme selective nature of tsunami destruction along given coastlines, the development of planning and zoning criteria is required for proper coastal management and for population evacuation during tsunami warnings. Furthermore, the high cost of coastal land in many areas, dictates an accurate assessment of the tsunami risk, rather than arbitrary conservative zonation. Thus there is a need to establish the total risk at any point along a threatened coastline, as well as the probability of occurrence, for insurance purposes. A microzonation map of the tsunami hazard may be required which will be of great usefulness in developing proper coastal management criteria. For critical areas it may be necessary to perform detailed numerical modeling studies which indicate the spatial variation of the tsunami hazard along a given coastline, where expected tsunami height can be quantified and evacuation limits designated (Pararas Carayannis, 1988a). What I propose is international cooperation in this area and endorsement of a standardized technique for doing this, by an international group such as ours. This would be consistent with the scope of IDNDR for the reduction of the tsunami disaster.

Public Education and Awareness

It is obvious that the best way of mitigating the tsunami hazard is with a program of public education and awareness. Because of the infrequency of tsunamis, the public must be constantly reminded of the potential hazard. Public informational activities must be sponsored by governmental authorities on a regular and continuous basis to assure awareness and public response when a tsunami warning is issued. Development of appropriate educational materials, such as brochures, pamphlets and audiovisual materials are necessary to implement a program of tsunami disaster mitigation. Such educational materials can be best developed with national and international support consistent with the objectives of the IDNDR.


Pararas-Carayannis, George, 1982, "The Effects of Tsunami on Society ", Impact of Science on Society, Vol. 32, No. 1.

Pararas-Carayannis, George, 1988a, "Risk Assessment of the Tsunami Hazard", Natural and Man-Made Hazards, 183-191, D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Pararas-Carayannis, George, 1 988 b, " Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific: An Example of International Cooperation " , Natural and Man-Made Hazards, 773-780, D. Reidel Publishing Company.



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