with that horror forever. Families torn apart will always wonder what happened to missing loved ones. As I worked on this book in the days following the disaster, the estimate of deaths, first 20,000, doubled each day, eventually reaching 280,000. Sadly, we recognize that the true toll in human lives will never be known. Scientists will agonize as they ask themselves: “Could this catastrophe have been predicted?” Governments will be challenged by angry citizens: “Could warnings have been given, could aid have arrived faster, could more victims have been pulled from the sea or otherwise rescued?”

The reality is that earthquakes cannot be prevented and some earthquakes will cause tsunami. What is preventable is needless loss of life. The knowledge exists to build earthquake-resistant and flood-resistant buildings; for economic and other reasons it is not always employed. Warning systems can be deployed—satellite communication technology today makes such systems a bargain compared to the cost of just one day of international aid to tsunami victims.

There are conditions besides tsunami that can give rise to extreme waves—waves that can cause appalling property loss and loss of human lives in ships at sea. Extreme waves are likewise not preventable, but again, needless loss of life is preventable through the design of better vessels and improved weather forecasting models. Pressures due to economics and competition need to be examined to see if they are placing ships and crews at excessive risk. The research program currently under way within the European community is a much needed first step. Hopefully, this work will lead to better predictive tools and new design criteria for both seagoing vessels and offshore structures that will better enable them to withstand extreme waves.

We can never quiet the stirrings of Ruau-Moko in the womb of the earth, nor can we still the restless waters raised by Poseidon. But through awareness, and better science and engineering, we could certainly improve the odds for survival. The keys are better design, forecasting and prediction, and warning systems.


Today, more people than ever before live along the shorelines of every country touching upon an ocean. Over the ages, the oceans have risen

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement