Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 6, 2009

Samoa Tsunami: Scope and scale matter

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 6, 2009

A BBC report  by Phil Mercer on Tsunami-ravaged Samoa concludes, “Huge physical and psychological challenges lie ahead and many islanders wonder if life can ever be the same again. Houses, roads and businesses will be rebuilt but reviving the confidence of a coast-loving people is likely to be a lot harder. The ocean that has sustained them for so long is now considered in many quarters to be the enemy – one that is viewed with suspicion and fear.”

There have been thirty-two confirmed deaths in American Samoa, out of a total population of 65,000.  Roughly 2000 have been displaced.   The neighboring islands of Tonga and the Independent State of Samoa were also hit hard.  

On the island of Upolu in the Independent State of Samoa a 25 mile strip of coast was essentially wiped out.  Kathy Marks of the Christian Science Monitor quotes a UN official, “It’s very bad but it’s localized. The moment you move beyond that strip, everything is intact, and the roads have been cleared rapidly, so there’s access to deliver aid and services and evacuate the injured.”

The scale of death, injury, and destruction is high.  The scope is, however, modest.  In contrast to the widespread impact of the earthquake in Sumatra or cyclone and flood damage in the Philippines, the South Pacific disaster is much more manageable.

US military assets and FEMA experts were quickly deployed to American Samoa.  Five federal agencies and the Red Cross are involved in a coordinated response.

According to Kena Lesi reporting for the AP, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also helped restore water service to residents in the American territory and coordinated the installation of more than 20 generators at shelters and sewer and water treatment plants. The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy have supplied survivors with more than 26,000 meals, 14,000 liters (3,700 gallons) of water, 1,800 blankets and more than 800 cots.”

Reporting for USA Today and the Honolulu Advertiser Derrick DePledge   quoted Kenneth Tingman, the federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency: “”When we drove around the first day, we saw people that were not waiting, they were not acting like victims, they were taking charge of their lives. They were sweeping up. They were cleaning up. And they were getting on with the duty of living their lives and putting their families back together.”

In crafting a resilience strategy, scope and scale are key considerations. The greater the geographic reach and/or population density of the event,  the more resilience will be seriously challenged.  The greater the scope, the slower outside assistance will be to arrive.  The wider the scope, the greater the sense of  victimization, isolation and vulnerability, and full  recovery will be much more complicated. 

But if scope is contained, a disaster of horrific scale may allow both place and people to largely recover.

More information:

Associated Press video of tsunami damage in American Samoa

CNN: Agencies working to aid Samoans hit by quake, tsunami

ABC News: Tsunami warning systems too slow

Wall Street Journal: Being ready for the big wave


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Comment by christopher tingus

October 7, 2009 @ 3:37 am

We are all well aware that there will unfortunately be more death and destruction from earthquake, tsunami, hurricane and typhoon and as long as growing population along our seashores is not better planned and prepared for the eventual.

While we all enjoy a stroll along the waterfront, man has been given sufficient evidence of the wrath of Mother Nature and being close by.

Until more availability of monies for civil defense, recoveries and imposing more local zoning restrictions in moving people a bit further away from the coast, such disasters will continue to take precious Life as man’s insistence to locate within splashing distance to the waterfront is certainly a continued challenge for planning folks at the local government level and the tragedy that befalls folks who are unfortunately too close and cannot escape to higher ground and further inland as often time is so precious given the proximity of individuals especially to an oncoming tsunami wave without much time to react.

It is so unfortunate, however we must do our best to enlighten the population and implement warning procedures to help those able to leave the seashore quickly.

Christopher Tingus
MUA – Urban Affairs & City Planning

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 9, 2009 @ 5:38 am

This event might be Samoa’s “Big One” and looking like life in paradise might never be the same.

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