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For World Tsunami Awareness Day, we look at how civil engineers can help mitigate the impact of these natural disasters. 

ICE Publishing at the Frankfurt Book Fair
  • Updated: 05 Nov 2022
  • Author: Caitlin Flint

Here in the UK 5 November is bonfire night, however, around the world it marks World Tsunami Awareness Day. A tsunami is a series of enormous waves caused by an underwater disturbance, usually an earthquake occurring below or near the ocean but also by volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides, and coastal rock falls. While rare, they are the deadliest and costliest among all hazards.  

 ‘In future, the damage associated with tsunami waves, depending on coastal parameters, could increase with rising sea levels, erosion and destruction of coral reefs, and the loss of Arctic sea-ice.’ (Klettner et al.

Civil engineers have an important part to play in all stages of reducing the impact of these natural disasters as the papers below all show.  


Figure from Macabuag et al 

Withstanding disaster 

When you first think of civil engineers working on tsunamis, you most likely think of those ensuring structures and infrastructure can withstand the disasters. 

 After disaster 

After a tsunami does strike, engineers will work to re-establish key infrastructure, as in Aceh and Nias, Indonesia post-tsunami reconstruction by survivor participation

They will also carry out fieldwork to better understand what has happened. By better understanding these disasters, more can be done to reduce their impact. 

 Prediction and modelling 

‘Computer modelling of the tsunami propagation and inundation provides an important means for risk assessment, evacuation planning and real-time forecasting to enable early warning.’ (Amouzgar et al.) 

It is not just the waves themselves that cause damage. Tsunamis can induce liquefaction, enhance erosion and scour, and undermine the stability of beach sediments supporting natural and built infrastructure in the coastal nearshore environment. Coastal and geotechnical engineers often look at ways to predict the potential impact of a tsunami, taking into account many variables.  

If you would like more information on the pivotal role of civil engineering in tackling global humanitarian challenges, we recommend 
Humanitarian Civil Engineering. Available in print and as an ebook, it identifies what a humanitarian engineer does and offers practices that are tangible to ensure safe engineering. It combines concepts and tools traditionally used by practitioners and development agencies with civil engineering practices, project management and systems thinking. When combined, these interdisciplinary practices offer all civil engineers better methods to manage the difficulties inherent in community development projects.