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This month marks the fifth anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – one of the most devastating events of its kind in history. On December 26, 2004, a massive tsunami – powered by a 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake – was unleashed near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It struck 11 countries, across thousands of miles of ocean, leaving more than 230,000 people dead. Millions were made homeless.
In response to that disaster, the United States, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce stepped up efforts to build partnerships for an international tsunami warning program for the Indian Ocean to augment the existing tsunami warning system in place in the Pacific.
"NOAA is advancing tsunami science and warning systems for America and many at-risk parts of the world," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. "Our efforts cannot stop with researching, developing technology and issuing forecasts," she said, "successful early warning ultimately relies on communicating the threat clearly so a prepared population will be able to act responsibly."
Since 2004, NOAA has received more than $90 million to expand United States tsunami detection and warning capabilities, and an additional $135 million to conduct research, install integrated observing systems, and provide training in hazard mitigation through education and community preparedness, and to establish a global tsunami warning and education network and technology transfer program.
As a result of this investment, the U.S. and the world are better prepared for the next big tsunami. In 2004, for example, there was no functional international coordination on tsunami warnings beyond the Pacific Ocean. Today, the United States provides other countries with technical assistance, improved preparedness and capacities, and equipment to detect and communicate tsunami threats. In addition, the U.S. now promotes sharing of data, best practices and policies, and has established education and training programs in several countries.
"NOAA has strong capabilities to detect tsunamis and issues warnings, but at the end of the day we need people to pay attention to these warnings and immediately move to high ground to save their own lives," said Jenifer Rhoades, tsunami program manager at NOAA's National Weather Service.
Working with its international partners, the United States is committed to reducing the danger and destruction posed by tsunamis.