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Developing an effective tsunami warning system: lessons from the 1960 Chile earthquake tsunami for New Zealand coastal communities


Johnston, D and Pettersson, R and Downes, G and Paton, D and Leonard, G and Pishief, K and Bell, R, Developing an effective tsunami warning system: lessons from the 1960 Chile earthquake tsunami for New Zealand coastal communities, Kotuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Science Online, 3, (2) pp. 105-120. ISSN 1177-083X (2008) [Refereed Article]

DOI: doi:10.1080/1177083X.2008.9522436


The magnitude 9.5 earthquake on 22 May 1960 in southern Chile was the largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in the 20th century. It generated a tsunami that swept the shores of Chile and radiated out across the Pacific, with the major loss of life in Chile and, despite warnings being issued, in both Hawai‘i and Japan. The absence of a Pacific-wide tsunami warning system at the time meant that the tsunami struck New Zealand without an official warning being issued. Fortunately, there was no loss of life despite widespread damage to coastal facilities. A large aftershock occurred in Chile 3 days later (25 May) and fears about a tsunami from this event resulted in the broadcasting of a nationwide warning on radio in New Zealand. Newspapers of the day reported that thousands of people around the country were evacuated, making this the largest and most widespread evacuation in New Zealand’s history. Almost the entire population of Whitianga, Waihi Beach, Whakatane, Ohope, and Opotiki were moved to high ground for several hours and, in many other communities, people self-evacuated from coastal fringes. After the event, there was much discussion in the newspapers of the need to improve both warnings and public awareness of the hazard, and of the appropriate response to warnings. Over the 40 years from 1960 up to the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, public awareness of New Zealand’s tsunami risk and preparedness had waned. Since 2004, the renewed focus on tsunami has built on a range of improvements in emergency management policies and practices, and the lessons identified from the event paved the way for a number of new initiatives to get underway to enhance the New Zealand’s tsunami warning capacity and capability.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:tsunami; public response; warnings; 1960
Research Division:Psychology
Research Group:Social and personality psychology
Research Field:Social psychology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Natural hazards
Objective Field:Natural hazards not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Paton, D (Professor Douglas Paton)
ID Code:54457
Year Published:2008
Deposited By:Psychology
Deposited On:2009-02-23
Last Modified:2014-12-18

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