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Reprinted with permission by Dr. Crichton. A point of view on the Tsunami and other natural disasters which might be worth a discussion.
James Cohen, PE
James Cohen Consulting, PC
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2005 05:39 AM
Subject: Re: Tsunami - how many disasters

Interesting discussion between Philip and Robert.  May I just comment from an insurance industry point of view?
The problem seems to be that many disaster management practitioners still do not separate vulnerability from exposure.  For insurers, exposure is a separate concept, namely the value of people and assets located in a high hazard area determines their maximum probable loss and the amount of reinsurance they need to buy.  It is not for insurers to question why people want to live in a high hazard area, but what they can do is reflect their vulnerability in the premium.  The insurance industry is trying to encourage micro insurance in less developed communities to help people restore their livelihoods after a disaster.
As Robert will no doubt agree, there is a very high exposure in Hawaii, but the design and resilience of construction on the coast, means that vulnerability is relatively low, no doubt due in part to dialogue with the insurance industry. For example modern hotels like the Sheraton have virtually no assets on the ground floor except a reception desk, so a tsunami can flow right under the hotel causing little damage.  The main exposure is people, but people are mobile so that exposure can be reduced quickly with effective warning systems, and everyone in Hawaii seems to know exactly what to do if the sirens go off, thanks to regular drills and education programmes.
I have visited the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, and know that they have the equipment, skills and technology to forecast tsunamis anywhere in the world, and even though this event was outside their remit, they did try to warn the Asian countries, but it was Christmas time and a weekend, so most of the phones they called were not answered.  If the USA was prepared to extend the remit of the Pacific centre to a world wide role, the additional costs would be small and steps could be taken to set up a database of 24/7 contact telephone numbers around the world, together with automatic dialling systems.  It would certainly be much cheaper than separate stations around the world.
Satellites could also have a much bigger role. There are three synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites which can actually track tsunamis in real time and measure their speed, height, and exact location. This could eliminate the false alarm problem.  One is Canadian (RADARSAT), and the others are European (ERS 2 and ENVISAT - 1).  Strangely the USA do not have any such satellites. They have already been used to spot rogue waves in the S. Atlantic which is helping with the design of new ships, and have even been used to spot and track the wash from drug runners' speedboats in the North Sea, resulting in captures and arrests.  A constellation of SAR satellites could provide 24/7 coverage of the whole world. These satellites have many other applications: for example, using permanent scatterer SAR interferometry techniques developed in Italy it is possible to monitor vertical ground movements of less than 1 millimeter per year, with potential advance warning of landslides, volcanic activity and building collapse.  The oil exploration industry and the insurance industry have seen the potential but there is little sign of interest from the disaster relief community - why is this?
From Professor David Crichton, 1 Quarryknowe Crescent, Inchture, PH14 9RH Scotland
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