Sunday, December 26, 2004

Good Idea, but Not All That Useful

I am going to need a bit more context to justify my first impression of this article where Mr. Waverley Person suggests that the death toll was so high because the affected nations did not have early warning systems that might have given the victims time to escape.

"Most of those people could have been saved if they had had a tsunami warning system in place or tide gauges," he said yesterday.

"And I think this will be a lesson to them," he said, referring to the governments of the devastated countries.

The context that I would need is the ability to spread information across those regions and the mobility of the inhabitants. I can see this happening in areas where people just don't have the access to information to know even if they need to evacuate. I would be surprised if a majority of them even knew there had been an earthquake if they hadn't felt it themselves. Secondly, what was the area of devastation? Was it a relatively thin ribbon along hundreds of miles of coastline, or was it a shorter front with deeper penetration? In the first case, it would only have been a short run inland to avoid the inundation, and any warning would have been useful. If it was the second case, then a lead time of only "20 minutes to 2 hours" would only serve to catch people on the road.

One last point, this quote, also from Mr. Person:

"People along the Japanese coasts, along the coasts of California - people are taught to move away from the coasts. But a lot of these people in the area where this occurred - they probably had no kind of lessons or any knowledge of tsunamis because they are so rare." Emphasis mine

I have lived in California my entire life, most of it in spitting distance of the San Andreas Fault. I have never heard anything in all of my voluminous education regarding earthquakes about moving away from the shoreline out of concern for tsunamis. Having tried to get out of the Dodger Stadium parking lot after the July 4 fireworks, I know that my fellow Californians do not really grasp the idea of an orderly exit. I shudder to think what it would look like if the word came down that the Big One would hit the next day, and the image of evacuating the coastline inside of an hour is absurd to the point of tragic.

Link via Instapundit.

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