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Final dispatch on tsunami in ‘Japan Reconnaissance’

May 27, 2011

Category: A Closer Look

“The most important lesson is that underestimating the hazard has tragic consequences.”

That’s the kernel to remember, reports Lori Dengler, a geology professor at Humboldt State University, as she concludes her “Japan Reconnaissance” series of posts about her recent journey through tsunami-ravaged landscapes.

(For “A Closer Look” at the trip posted May 20, with more excerpts and photos, see “From tsunami wreckage in Japan, sobering lessons for California.” For the actual posts in the Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group blog, go to, scrolling down as necessary.)

Here are more excerpts from the Dengler’s final dispatch in the series, posted May 25:

“I’m still sorting through my notes and photographs to summarize our findings from the trip. I took more than 1200 photos and Megumi (her colleague) has a similar number. We conducted more than 30 detailed interviews.

“I am also pouring through the reports from other scientific teams and the flood of government and other reports that have been released. Here are my preliminary thoughts on the themes that are emerging. My disclaimer is that ‘preliminary’ is the operative word here.

“… What I am taking away from Japan is the importance of allowing for uncertainty in hazard estimation and making sure we are conservative when it comes to life-safety decisions. We’ll be taking a long second look at what we have been doing in California – and I know that other folks working in the Cascadia region will be doing the same…”

Though she offered “other lessons (in no priority order),” the first that came to her keyboard was this:

“Few of the people we talked to thought they were at risk where they lived or worked. We don’t know the reasons for this – whether they believed the sea walls would protect them, or education efforts weren’t effective, or there were other reasons.”

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