Tsunami Warning System Saves Lives After Sumatra Earthquake

An 8.6 magnitude earthquake on April 10, 2012, off the coast of Sumatra brought back memories of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that claimed roughly 220,000 lives in 12 countries. While painful for some, it was also a relief, as warning systems put in place after that dreadful first quake seemed to do what they were intended to — save the lives of those living in coastal areas prone to tsunamis.

Fortunately, no lives were lost in the most recent earthquake, and structural damage was contained to some buildings and an Aceh Besar bridge, which collapsed. Aceh Besar saw the most losses in the 2004 tsunami, with 170,000 dead or missing.

The lessons learned in the aftermath of the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and resulting tsunami have helped increase preparedness so that the next big quake results in the least amount of human life lost. Evacuation points and signs have been established to help residents and vacationers flee in case of an earthquake, and those in low-lying areas quickly evacuated to higher ground during the recent quake. What further aggravated the situation was that some areas lost power. However, power was restored on the evening of the earthquake.

Today, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center does all the tsunami warnings for the Indian Ocean due to a lack of such a system in the region. That will change once the Indian Ocean system gets approved by the United Nations and other countries and becomes official.

In a spate of good fortune, the April 10 quake was horizontal as opposed to vertical. The shaking of the sea floor was not up and down, so waves of significant height were not produced. The strength of the recent Sumatran quake, 8.6 magnitude, was about three times weaker than the one that hit Japan in March 2011, which was classified as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

For more information about the new tsunami warning system, visit: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-04-11/indonesia-hit-by-8-dot-7-magnitude-quake-tsunami-warnings-issued