Tsunami Distance Learning Course

Tsunami Distance Learning Course
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This distance learning course provides a comprehensive review of tsunami science, the U.S. tsunami warning program processes and products, and tsunami preparedness for coastal communities. The intended audience is emergency managers, tsunami watchstanders, forecasters, and anyone who is interested in an in-depth understanding of tsunamis, their hazards, and how communities can mitigate the dangers from this phenomenon. To better serve those who will not use the full course, some content overlaps across the modules. Community Tsunami Preparedness is also a course in the FEMA Independent Study Program’s catalog as IS-326. Two optional modules are designed for middle and high school students. These can also be downloaded and used by emergency managers or forecasters to educate families in coastal areas.

Goals and Objectives

Course Goal

The goal of this course is to provide students with knowledge of basic scientific concepts underlying tsunami generation and propagation, related hazards, and warning and preparedness process to mitigate their effects.

Course Objectives
  • Describe the major triggers of tsunamis and how they generate waves.
  • List the major types of tectonic plate boundaries and identify which ones are most likely to generate tsunamis.
  • Identify the earthquake and bathymetric properties most likely to contribute to large tsunamis and use them to predict how big a hypothetical tsunami will be.
  • Describe the major properties of tsunami waves and how they differ from or are similar to deep- and shallow-water wind waves.
  • Describe how tsunamis propagate and list the factors that affect their direction and speed.
  • Describe the various ways tsunamis can manifest themselves near or at shore, and how these effects are influenced by coastal features or source characteristics.
  • Explain the significance of each component of a Tsunami Warning System, as well as the importance of the interconnections of the components within the entire system.
  • Describe the complexity and the challenges of issuing tsunami alerts.
  • Identify the appropriate action to take for each type of forecast product.
  • Discuss the hazards associated with tsunamis.
  • Assess community risk.
  • Describe the components of an effective tsunami response plan that encompasses hazard mitigation strategies and disaster management tactics.


Tsunamis can be one of nature’s most devastating phenomena, as evidenced by the 2011 Honshu (Japan) tsunami, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and many others. This self-paced, distance learning course addresses the scientific characteristics of tsunamis, the systems in place to warn and forecast wave impacts (primarily those U.S. warning system processes), and the hazards tsunamis can produce in coastal areas. There are two parts to this course: Core Topics and Optional Topics. In the Core Topics, the scientific aspects covered include tsunami causes, wave characteristics and propagation, and coastal effects. The module that discusses the warning system uses a simulated event and past tsunami occurrences to highlight how U.S. Warning Center personnel determine a tsunami threat based on seismic and sea level data and tsunami forecast models. Message communication and local response are also addressed. The third module, Community Tsunami Preparedness, provides an overview of tsunami science and coastal hazards, as well as the warning system, with an emphasis on the use of various warning level products. It also includes information on community preparedness and education activities, tsunami response plans, and lessons learned in Crescent City, CA, a community impacted by the 2011 Honshu tsunami.

The optional modules are highly interactive scenarios that provide engaging lessons about tsunamis, primarily geared toward middle school and high school students. These modules could also be used by emergency managers and Warning Coordination Meteorologists to educate their communities.

Course Outline

Additional Resources

Course Outline