Tsunami Survival Guide for Australian coastal communities (don't stay at home without it)
If you
here because you are on the coast and feel an earthquake ... stop reading this and head for high ground!survival guide

General Advice

Reduce your personal risk
Tips from a survivor of the 2004 disaster.
Under sea landslide tsunami from coastal earthquakes
Purpose and background


Australia & Pacific tsunami news.
Australian tsunami risk
Is Sydney at risk? - Youtube presentation.
Inundation maps (approximate)
State action plans
Why weren't we warned? Fiction to raise awareness

India Ocean & Other Regions

Indian Ocean [Earthquake] Tsunami 26 Dec 2004
Indian Ocean news & updates


Subscriber alerts:
Tsunamis explained and the (low) risk of Asteroid Impact Tsunami
More Tsunami Links
The Tsunami Society International
Disaster Pages of Dr George Pararas-Carayannis
International Tsunami Information Center
World Tsunami Awareness Day - 5 November (each year, from 2016) - The debut World Tsunami Awareness Day focuses on education and evacuation drills. 2017: Tsunami safety day at Ettalong Beach.

Purpose & background

This page is mainly concerned with prevention of future tsunami disasters by identifying coastal communities that are vulnerable to tsunami and ensuring that people know what to do in the event of a tsunami warning or earthquake. It was started in 1999. It is intended for coastal locations where emergency authorities do not have a tsunami action plan.

Note that on several occasions over the years I have tried to get my local newspaper - the Manly Daily - to cover this issue but there has been no response. This, of course, has nothing to do with the revenue the paper gets from advertising real estate at the water's edge!

My (amateur) research on this topic started in 1999 when I looked at tsunami generated by asteroids. I was encouraged by several scientists to prepare a paper on the outcomes and this was published in the Science of Tsunami Hazards: Asteroid impacts: the extra hazard due to tsunami. I also prepared articles for Space.com and SpaceDaily.com. A special thanks to tsunami experts George Pararas-Carayannis , Steve Ward,  David Crawford and especially the late Charles Mader who provided advice over many years.

There are many links on this page, dating back to 1999. Apologies for those that no longer work. Please let me know if crucial links need updating.
Tsunami warning sign - New Zealand
  Illawara Mercury  "Hopefully it never happens but it is important we are prepared..."
   BBC "knowing how to act before one happens is the best preparation."

[A lack of] Global conventions

I recommend that emergency authorities give consideration to two measures that would be globally recognised by people in locations vulnerable to tsunami
  1. Approximately every fifth telegraph pole has one orange band that is 5 metres above mean sea level or two orange bands that are 10 metres above mean sea level.pole band at 5m
  2. Five toots of a car horn or emergency siren is a signal to evacuate due to tsunami
Alternative measures to these might already be in place or under consideration. In any case there is a need to set global conventions for tsunami information so that travellers know what to do.

Australia - Updates

Oct 2018

16 Oct 18: Nature: The Tsunami Threat to Sydney Harbour, Australia: Modelling potential and historic events.

Sep 2018: The [UK] Sun [sensational!]: WAVE FROM HELL Monster TSUNAMI could wipe out Australia’s east coast and kill 6.5 MILLION in hours - There's a 'one in five chance' a giant tidal wave could batter the Brit expat hot spot - home to 6.5million people - within the next generation. Note: In my view the hazard is grossly overstated (in effect a 1 in 250 year event) but is still a “high” risk. Historical mega-tsunami along the East Coast seem to have average frequency around 1000 years - but that is based on limited research. See my tip number 8 (relax & enjoy the coast)

Nov 2017

Thinkhazard is a new website for identifying natural hazard risks to any location around the globe. Here is the Sydney report:
Sydney hazard risk

15 Jun 16 News.com.au: [SES] Tsunami evacuation maps for Sydney and NSW + SES Tsunami Safe website.
7 Nov 16 The Manly Daily: State Emergency Services to hold mock evacuation at Manly in case of tsunami - at last!

Update December 2014 (ten years on from the Boxing Day tsunami)

Still no signs that people living along the coast of Australia are prepared for a mega-tsunami. Prepare-Act-Survive is the message for bushfires and cyclones but this is not the case for tsunami awareness. See "Tsunami Survival Guide"

Update - December 2009

Local and Regional Tsunami Action Plans are now being implemented by State Emergency Services around the coastline of Australia. This is an excellent, if not overdue, development.

The advice on this page applies to people living in areas that are not yet prepared for a mega-tsunami through a Tsunami Action Plan. Check your SES through these links (* some of these are currently home page links, pending the preparation of tsunami advice pages):

Reduce your personal risk (created by Michael Paine, May 2008)

Be alert and prepared - not alarmed.  This is a low-probability, high-consequence event that calls for a little preparation in case a warning is issued.  These are similar to the things that people do to prepare for cyclone warnings in tropic areas and bushfires. The following advice applies mainly where there is no local tsunami action plan.

Although the likelihood of a mega-tsunami is low there are some simple things you can do to significantly reduce the risk of fatality:
  1. Identify if you live, work or play in a vulnerable location - find out the approximate height above mean sea level. As a rough guide coastal and estuary land less than 10 metres above mean sea level is "at risk" and 5m or less should be considered "vulnerable". Google Maps has a sea level rise add-on (update: no longer available - try this tips page or Sea Level Rise Explorer) that can give a very rough guide (detailed modelling is needed to assess vulnerability as there are many factors that influence tsunami inundation). The following links are to JPG screen snapshots from Google Maps in 2008 - red shows 5m contour and yellow shows 10m contour: - Narrabeen, Manly, Sydney , Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Nowra, Wollongong, Gosford, Newcastle and Forster (Update Dec09: There are more accurate maps being developed by SES organisations and this page will link to them when they are published on the internet or try Sea Level Rise Explorer). Update June 2016: NSW SES now has similar maps online. See the Central Coast (Gosford) maps here: 5 Nov 2017: Tsunami safety day at Ettalong Beach. Thumbnail of Newcastle maphttp://mpainesyd.com/filechute/newcastle_10m_contour.jpg
  2. Identify a safe location to go to in the event of a tsunami warning - a nearby hill or headland or at least the third storey of a reinforced concrete building
  3. Plan an evacuation route by foot to reach that safe location (avoid the need for driving a car because the roads will likely gridlock)
  4. Subscribe to the email or RSS warning service of the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
  5. Subscribe to a mobile phone alert service like the Australian Early Warning Network which offers anSMS service that relays tsunami warnings issued by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The service also covers other risks such as bushfires and cyclones. SMS-Tsunami-warning.com is a similar international service. With hundreds of thousands of people potentially afffected, you may not be able to rely on the Internet, landline telephones or mobile phones at the height of a tsunami emergency so have a portable radio available for receiving updates.
  6. If you receive a tsunami warning that is relevant to your location, or feel an earthquake, quickly get your evacuation plan into action. If a mega-tsunami does inundate the area do not return to low-lying land until given the all-clear by emergency services as other waves are likely to follow after the first wave and each wave can last for 20 to 30 minutes. The danger may last for many hours and possibly more than 24 hours.
  7. Approach your local council and politicians and ask to support (ie fund) State SES to develop tsunami warning action plans and infrastructure (such as a public address system) and to have inundation modelling carried out. See the [NSW] State Tsunami Plan( pdf 2311kb) - issued in 2005. See Tsunami Notification Zones for British Columbia as an example.
  8. Most importantly, relax and enjoy living near the ocean, knowing that you have made basic preparations for a worst case scenario
Update Nov09: Brochure "Tsunami Survival Guide" based on the above tips
"If you are at the beach and feel an earthquake – GO TO HIGH GROUND" - don't wait for a tsunami warning signal because the tsunami could arrive in less than 30 minutes (advice from Tsunami expert Dr Charles Mader, who sadly died on 18 August 2018)

Tips from a tsunami survivor

These tips are from  Kristin Fedorow, an Australian who survived the 2004 tsunami on the Thai coast:

1) Tsunamis usually have more than one wave
2) The later waves are usually much bigger
3) The water does not necessarily recede before the wave approaches
4) The wave does not necessarily look big as it comes in
5) The time between waves can be much longer than a few minutes

These points are illustrated in this Youtube video:  Japanese  mega-tsunami in  2011
and this confronting movie about the 2004 tsunami: The Impossible. Early Warning Network

Slide show presentation on the tsunami hazard to Sydney (by Michael Paine at a Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment meeting, March 2008)

Includes recent computer modelling of a mega-tsunami from the Tongan Trench that has similar features to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. 

Update 2008

Update July 2006 with advice from EMA  (see also Australian news)

Key points (thanks Mark Sullivan, Director Capability Development EMA):
Related links

Since 1999 this web page has pointed out the  need to learn more about the risk to Australia's coastline from major tsunami - some of these recommendations have since been partially implemented but no civil response system is in place for the most vulnerable locations like Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong:

Quantify the threat to Australian coastlines from tsunami (1999)

(Extract from "Australian Spaceguard Survey: the Australian component of an international effort to detect Earth-threatening asteroids and comets" - May 1999. Responses from Australian politicians.)

NEWS - Australian & Pacific tsunami-related (latest at top)

Monday's tsunami alert exposed numerous flaws in the preparedness for a major tsunami along the east coast of Australia. Since 1999 I have pointed out the lack of tsunami preparedness in Australia.

The report today in the Manly Daily is focussed on the dissemination of warning information but that is relatively straight forward. I subscribe to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center's email alert service and received the first warning at 7.53am:

10 minutes later this was upgraded to include Australia:

 LOCATION                            COORDINATES     ARRIVAL TIME
 --------------------------------    ------------    ------------
 SOLOMON IS.      MUNDA               8.4S 157.2E    2039Z 01 APR
                  FALAMAE             7.4S 155.6E    2103Z 01 APR
AUSTRALIA        CAIRNS             16.7S 145.8E    2349Z 01 APR
                  BRISBANE           27.2S 153.3E    0033Z 02 APR
                  SYDNEY             33.9S 151.4E    0114Z 02 APR
                  GLADSTONE          23.8S 151.4E    0139Z 02 APR
                  MACKAY             21.1S 149.3E    0144Z 02 APR
                  HOBART             43.3S 147.6E    0245Z 02 APR
(times are Universal/GMT so 0114Z equates to 11.14am in Sydney)

The big flaw exposed on Monday was the lack civil preparedness:
a) In Australia there are no computer models of shoaling tsunami to predict the size of a tsunami when it reaches the coast, based on its direction and deep water amplitude
b) There are no inundation models to predict which areas are at risk from tsunami of various sizes and no civil disaster plans to deal with such inundations.
c) There is no way to reliably and quickly warn the thousands of people in these areas (Sri Lanka now has air-raid style sirens along its coast).
d) People have not been taught what to do if they receive a tsunami warning (Pacific Islanders have been shown videos of tsunami to help them understand what to do. In Japan and Hawaii there are planned evacuation routes).

In short, some people who should have moved to safety did not and many people who were in no danger took unnecessary action and added to the disruption.

A typical misinformed comment of a person on the beach (with a young family!) was that they would wait until the sea receded before running to a high place. Firstly, the trough does not always arrive before the peak of the wave and secondly, as shown in the graphic videos from the Indian Ocean tsunami, people have no chance of out-running a tsunami. Tsunami move much faster than a normal ocean wave.

Although there were a few hours warning on Monday this is not always the case. For example, there are several examples of underwater landslide tsunami where a huge portion of the continental slope collapsed, often triggered by a minor earthquake. The continental slope off the coast of Sydney has not been surveyed for this risk and, in hindsight, the Newcastle Earthquake of 1989 should have been treated as a potential tsunami event.

Michael Paine

Local earthquakes may be a sign of a tsunami

In 1989 the Newcastle/Sydney region experienced a mild earthquake and 15 people died when a building collapsed in Newcastle. Following analysis of the 1998 New Guinea tsunami, it is now apparent that "mild" earthquakes can set off undersea landslides on  nearby continental shelves that, in turn, generate deadly localised tsunami. In any case, an off-shore undersea landslide might be felt as a mild earthquake so if you feel an earthquake in the coastal zone, quickly move to higher ground

Sometime in the last few centuries an giant landslide occured off the coast between Sydney and Wollongong. See the diagram below. This is likely to have caused a mega-tsunami along the nearby coastline.

Maybe once thorough seafloor surveys have been conducted and analysed for landslide potential then some coastal areas can be declared "safe" from such short-range tsunami. In the meantime it would be prudent for people on coastlines with steep continental slopes (like Sydney) to quickly move to higher ground if they feel an earthquake, in case such a landslide tsunami is generated. See 'The Need for Underwater LandslideBulli landslide - courtesy Dr Dietmar Muller, Sydney University Hazards Prediction" - a report by Phillip Watts on a 2000 workshop in Science of Tsunami Hazards Volume 20 No 2, page 95 (6Mb PDF). 
Caption: Underwater survey showing a landslide on the continental slope between Sydney and Wollongong. It is about twice the size of Botany Bay and the depth is greater than the height of Mt Kosciuszko.
This image has an exaggerated vertical scale. You can now find it with Google Earth.

Not so rare!

Tsunami in the 1990s  Killer tsunami in historical times
Updated 17 Mar 2011 (Japan disaster) & now PDF format. Click for larger image. May be reproduced with credit to this page or Michael Paine.

Indian Ocean Tsunami (see also other tsunami news)

Comment on the SE Asian tsunami disaster, 26 Dec 04.

This horrific tsunami was caused by an earthquake - not an asteroid - but the consequences are similar.  Like the asteroid threat, warnings from experts about the risk and consequences of major tsunami have been largely ignored, except in Japan and Western USA.

Japan and the USA have a very a effective tsunami warning system in the Pacific Ocean. It is based, partly, on pressure sensors on the ocean floor. Tsunami waves are so long that they change the pressure at the seafloor whereas wind waves get smoothed out.

It would be possible to set up a similar tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean - for a few $million (ie the cost of a few cruise missiles)!  However some locations, such as Sumartra, were probably too close to the source of the tsunami for a warning system to be effective and in other areas communication limitations might hinder evacuation.

The threat in this area is well documented - STH Abstract (1999): Tsunamis along the coastlines of India + Tsunamis recorded along the coast of India. 2007 STH : A CATALOG OF TSUNAMIS IN THE INDIAN OCEAN

List of runup values and travel times for the 2004 tsunami.

Jan 07: IndoTsunami web site -  developing a Regional Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System for the Indian Ocean

Jan 07: Excellent presentation by Steve Ward on the tsunami hazard (19Mb Quicktime movie)

Jun 14: Movie about the 2004 tsunami: The Impossible.

NEWS related to the Indian Ocean Tsunami (latest at top)

Asian earthqaukes 11 Aug 09
A balance needs to be struck between unreasonable false alarms and preparedness. Ignoring the potential threat is not an ethical option.
Relief organisations (USA - from www.apple.com)

Michael is a consulting mechanical engineer who lives in the Northern Beaches of Sydney. He  has been researching tsunami since 1998 and has had two papers published in the international journal Science of Tsunami Hazards: