30.04.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Learning from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: Policy Perspectives

© UNESCO/IOCTsunami evacuation area

One year after the devastating tsunami hit the east coast of Japan, a symposium brought together key stakeholders and experts to examine the lessons learned from the disaster, consider its policy implications, the importance of preparedness and identify improvements for tsunami warning systems. The conclusions and full transcript of the symposium ‘The Great East Japan Tsunami and Tsunami Warning Systems: Policy Perspectives’ are now available, including a Summary Statement.

Based on the many national and international post-tsunami field surveys carried out after the event and the performance analyses of the tsunami early warning systems in place, the symposium was organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the United Nations University, in collaboration with the Government of Japan. It brought together 290 physical and social scientists, warning system operators, emergency and response managers, planners, journalists, policy– and decision makers.

Every tsunami is unique, but looking back on the tragic events of March 2011, it is clear that self-evacuation is of major importance. Of nearly 19,000 deaths, 92.4% were caused by drowning. Some felt protected by sea walls; others misunderstood the initial underestimated warning. In some locations, public communication systems were damaged by the earthquake and subsequent warnings could not be disseminated. This highlights the need for reliable and back-up communication systems, but also for better educated communities that are aware of risks and can take responsibility for their own safety. Raising awareness and educating the public with materials that take psychological and sociological aspects into consideration is essential. Such aspects also need to be considered when drafting tsunami warning messages.

These are some of the conclusions and recommendations included in the Summary Statement, which also examines evacuation procedures, using mass media, standard operational procedures of Tsunami Warning Centers, international cooperation and other aspects of Tsunami Warning Systems that could be improved.

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