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International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Platform for the Promotion of Early Warning


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26 December disaster - failure of early warning
The massive earthquake that caused the tsunami was detected and located just a few minutes after it occurred. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii tried desperately to contact the affected countries across in the Indian Ocean. However, there was no system in place in the region and the warnings did not reach the millions of people living along the affected coastlines. Consequently, there was little chance for people to react and survive the disaster.

The tsunami was among the deadliest disasters in modern history. About 300,000 people lost their lives, one million people were made homeless and many hundreds of thousands lost their entire livelihoods. The tsunami mainly affected poor communities where people lived in marginal conditions.

A tsunami early warning and mitigation system has been in existence in the Pacific region for 40 years, but a similar initiative for the Indian Ocean had not been considered a priority by the countries in the Indian Ocean region.

The tsunami disaster exhibits serious failures in all four elements of effective people-centered early warning systems.

  • Risk knowledge: Prior knowledge of the risks faced by communities
    The earthquake and tsunami hazards in the region, and the vulnerabilities of coastal populations to tsunami were not seriously appreciated
  • Warning service: Technical monitoring and warning service
    Tsunami monitoring and early warning services were essentially non-existent throughout the region
  • Dissemination: Dissemination of understandable warnings to those at risk Effective communication channels for warnings did not exist.
  • Response capability: Knowledge and preparedness to act by those threatened
    The populations were unaware of the danger, had little idea of what to do, and there were no designated escape routes or safe shelters.
The four elements of effective
early warning systems

Source: International Early Warning Programme brochure