January 10, 2005
GIS Responds to the Asian Tsunami
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on GIScafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
Each GIS Weekly Review delivers to its readers news concerning the latest developments in the GIS industry, GIS product and company news, featured downloads, customer wins, and coming events, along with a selection of other articles that we feel you might find interesting. Brought to you by GISCafe.com. If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! Happy New Year!

This marks the 100th issue of GISWeekly. I look forward to sharing it with you for the coming year. As a result of the success of this weekly and others produced by IB Systems, starting the first week of January 2005, IB Systems will launch AECWeekly on AECCafe. AECWeekly, a weekly newsletter pushed to the desktop, will use the same popular format as
GISWeekly on GISCafe, covering breaking news, industry trends and technology evolution in the AEC industry.

I am pleased that I have been asked to be Editor of the new AECWeekly in addition to my responsibilities as AECCafe Editor, GISCafe and GISWeekly Editor. For the past 15 years, I have enjoyed working as an editor and writer in the AEC publishing industry, as well as in the GIS industry. The new weekly will offer an opportunity for rich, insightful editorial and product overviews.

My hope for both of these weeklies is to continue to do what we do best, but to also make it more interactive. Hearing from more readers will help to make that happen. All contact information for both publications will remain the same (see below). Our New Year's resolution for 2005 is to provide in GISWeekly more of what you, the readers, want to read.

On the topic of New Year's resolutions, my thoughts keep turning to the huge number of people displaced or mourning loved ones as a result of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Asia. What kinds of New Year's resolutions will they make, with so much to repair or rebuild, and so much lost that cannot be replaced?

Much of what we cover in GISWeekly and the GIS industry is emergency response. How do we respond to the challenge of emergencies, and how much can be expected of geospatial technology in the face of both natural and manmade emergencies? Certainly, the Asian tsunami disaster presents a challenge of such magnitude in terms of emergency relief and response that we will be analyzing it for a long time to come. This week we take a look at what GIS technology is currently being used for.

A lot of stories that I would usually list in the “Around the Web” section will appear in the Industry News section this week, as the world responds to the Asian tsunami disaster.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, Appointments, New Products, Around the Web and Upcoming Events.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

GIS Responds to the Asian Tsunami

By Susan Smith

Before the event

A few days before the earthquake rumbled beneath Northern Sumatra, Indonesia last Sunday, sending a tsunami surging outward into the Indian Ocean toward the unsuspecting shores of Sri Lanka and India, I was speaking to Jon Hansen of Autodesk, formerly the Fire Chief of Oklahoma City, who had rallied the forces to respond to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building back in 1995. The emergency Hansen had to deal with was a lot different than the Asian tsunami-first off, it was a manmade disaster, not a natural one. But what the two had in common was that there was no warning to alert the people who were about to lose their lives, that this event was going to happen and they needed
to move quickly to avoid it.

In each case, it's uncertain whether any sufficient warning could've been issued (see
NOAA scientists at the
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii have been feeling a bit queasy since a seismic signal reporting that an earthquake occurred off the west coast of Northern Sumatra was transmitted on Sunday, December 26th. The bulletin that NOAA issued indicated there was “no threat of a
tsunami to Hawaii, the West Coast of North America or to other coasts in the Pacific Basin-the area served by the existing tsunami warning system established by the Pacific rim countries and operated by NOAA in Hawaii.”

At this point NOAA scientists began to notify countries about the possibility that a tsunami may have been triggered by the massive 9.0 undersea earthquake. Because the Indian Ocean is outside their jurisdiction and there are no buoys in place there, the Pacific Basin tsunami warning system did not detect a tsunami there. According to NOAA's report, “Even without a way to detect whether a tsunami had formed in the Indian Ocean, NOAA officials tried to get the message out to other nations not a part of its Pacific warning system to alert them of the possibility of a tsunami. However, the tsunami raced across the ocean at speeds up to 500 mph.” A
full account and timeline of NOAA's actions once the undersea earthquake was detected by the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii shows how quickly - and slowly - events took place.

An article in The New York Times entitled
How Scientists and Victims Watched Helplessly does a good job of telling the story of the earthquake and tsunami from the points of view of various scientists and others around the world.

According to the article, seismologists predicted that there would be significant upheaval in the Sumatra area, but did not know when. Dr. Phil Cummins, a seismologist with Australia's geosciences agency, gathered and presented evidence that an Indian Ocean tsunami was inevitable, and along with some other scientists, suggested expanding the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific to include the Caribbean and Indian Oceans.

As a result of a meeting of the tsunami group in New Zealand in October 2003, Dr. Cummins is preparing a position paper and using computer modeling to simulate how an earthquake epicentered near Sumatra could cause huge tsunamis and show the destruction they could cause.

Sixth Sense

Seismologists were not the only ones with an ear to the ground, so to speak, in predicting the tsunami. An interesting tidbit reported in a Wall Street Journal article was that a herd of
antelope stampeded from the shoreline to safety on a hilltop just minutes before the tsunami enveloped the beach in Sri Lanka. Scientists are aware that
animals seem to have a sixth sense about seismic activity.


South East Asia Tsunami Emergency-Affected Areas
According to Professor Helmut Tributsch, a professor of physical chemistry at the Free University of Berlin, seismic activity ahead of earthquakes releases energy in the form of charged particles. His theory is that animals, particularly those living underground, can feel big tremors coming because of various vibrations and atmospheric patterns. Also tsunamis crash against rock formations beneath the sea floor and create a sound that animals hear, giving them time to escape the oncoming waves.

Earthquakes also affect the “flow of underground water, the earth's magnetic field, temperature and sound waves,” according to Wang Xiaoqing, a researcher with the China Earthquake Administration.

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-- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.


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