Tuesday, January 15, 2013


A survivor reacts to “The Impossible”

 By John Thompson

(Editor's Note: John Thompson was in Khoa Lak during the 2004 Tsunami. Recently, he attended a showing of “The Impossible.” This is a note from John Thompson, describing his experience from seeing the film, and his subsequent reflections). You can read John's original story here. 

It's not very often a movie is made about an event that received worldwide attention in which you can picture yourself in every scene.  The opening moments in The Impossible, of a family enjoying Christmas day at the Khao Lak Orchid hotel were especially meaningful to me, since I also spent that
same day at the same hotel.  Christmas evening I also spent at a beach front restaurant watching lanterns being released into the sky.

The morning of December 26 I ate breakfast on an outdoor patio at my bungalow hotel, watching a British family with two young boys playing in the surf  (the boys survived, but their parents would end up dying later that morning)." Despite the extraordinary special effects that went into recreating the tsunami, I didn't find that part especially frightening.  I supposed when you have lived through the real thing, it just isn't possible to re-live it in a movie.  Maybe it is because my experience was slightly different.  I saw the wave coming, didn't recognize what it was, watching on the beach until it was almost too late.  Then I started running away from the wave, with a group of people, on a street leading up from the beach.  About a block up the street I saw there was no way I could outrun the wave, and darted into a strong looking hotel building.  That split-second decision likely saved my life, and I wish I had called out to the other people running on the street to do the same, but almost no one did; they all kept running up the street. 
The Impossible did bring back many memories of those moments.  The fleeing of the birds, the rush of air, the total inundation with water after the initial crashing wave passed through.  
(Original Photo from John Thompson taken on December 26, 2004 in Khao Lak)
Parts that weren't quite the same were the screams from people in the water that I can still distinctly hear, the raging muddy water, and the irony of such a devastating event happening on a beautiful morning with a bright blue sky.  After the initial wave rushed through, I and the few people remaining in the hotel, climbed to the highest point in the hotel, similar to how the mother and son in the movie climbed into a tree fearing another wave.  There we waited for several hours, watching and listening to the water slowly drain back into the sea.  Other than the sound of the draining water, it was quiet.  There were few people left.  Finally when the water receded enough so that our refuge was no longer an artificial island, but once again connected to land, the small group of us on the roof climbed down and began picking our way through the mud, down power lines, overturn vehicles, and other debris, making our way to higher ground and safety.  Like in the movie, we salvaged water and drinks from the hotel, and made tourniquets out of hotel towels for a few badly injured people.  

That night, I and many other survivors camped out in the jungle on a hill top, hopefully above the reach of any further waves, although I do remember talking with people about the possibility of another wave could even reach our height.  By morning, helicopters were buzzing our camp, although no relief help seemed to be in site on the ground, so I and another survivor started hiking up the highway towards the next village.  We soon were given a ride to a bus station where we caught an overnight bus to Bangkok.  A few days later, after getting a new passport, buying new clothes and other essentials, I flew back to Krabi on an American Air Force C-130, where I and a friend volunteered at a hospital.  Later we rented a jeep and drove back to Khao Lak, where the devastation was still very fresh.  Similar to the movie, we saw bodies piled in trucks, lined up on the side of the road, and stacks of coffins.  The smell of decaying, rotting, bloated, water-logged flesh was overpowering, and not possible to convey in a movie.  We looked at postings on bulletin boards of photos of bodies and lists of missing people.

The movie really captured the horrific time that survivors went through trying to locate family members with whom they had just hours before been enjoying an idyllic Christmas holiday.  The randomness of why people survived versus those that didn't is hard to comprehend.  Out of couples and families, it was unusual that all members of the family made it through alive.  As for me, I am forever thankful that I ended up on the side of randomness of those that lived.  Survivors of the tsunami share a special connection, knowing what it is like to come so close to losing everything.  For those that were lucky enough not to have had to live through it, The Impossible does a very credible job of providing a glimpse into the chaos and suffering caused by the 2004 tsunami.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

Survivors applaud "The Impossible."

It is Sunday evening in California. This weekend, the movie “The Impossible” (Director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G.Sanchez) and starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and TomHolland premier in wide screen at over 500 screens across the USA. As I mentioned in last weeks blog post, I saw the movie about a week ago, knowing I wanted – needed – to see this movie before friends and family saw it this weekend.

As I anticipated, the weekend has been filled with mixed emotion. A number of family members, friends, and even strangers attended the movie. And following the movie, felt compelled to call me or send me emails. Most of their reaction was, “Rick, I had no idea that is what you went through.”

This reaction, along with the reaction of movie critics and film goers confirms what I also believe. The movie is that good. Or better said, “that real.”

This afternoon, I spent about 45 minutes talking on the phone with another tsunami survivor. He was also on Khoa Lak, the same beach that Henry (Erique) and Maria and their three boys were on as dipicted in the film. This is about 15 miles north of Patong where I and others experienced the same tsunami in Phuket. We had not talked in three years. But we both knew, as the anticipation of the release of this film, that we would eventually find a way to call and talk with each other when this film came out.

One of the things that both Peter and I agreed on was the small details of the film. In fact, there were items that we both agreed were so real that we had even forgotten them from our actual experiences.

For us both, the film was emotional to watch. Not because we were necessarily thrown back into the reality of those 72 hours beginning at 9:30 am on December 26, 2004. But because for the first time, we both said, “Now people can actually understand and feel what it felt like to be in the middle of the tsunami.”

 Over the last 8 years, I have been asked many times to explain “how did it feel to be in the middle of the tsunami?” Well meaning reporters and friend urge us to describe the details.

But this movie “shows” the details.

One of the best example of how this movie gets it right is in the “swirling debis ofwater.” For so long, I have tried to explain to people how dangerous the water was. Huge shards of glass from broken out hotel plate glass windows, pieces of tuk-tuks and huge chunks of pieces of building filled the water. Once a person asked, “Couldn’t you just swim” in the water. But as this movie so well describes, it was like being in a washing machine of deadly debris.

The director and writer also accurately depicted the sense of desperation as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters walked around looking for missing loved ones. Because most people had their personal belongings swept away, they didn’t even have pictures. And so they were walking around desperately trying to describe their children or mothers or fathers. And because there were visitors from around the world, and many were in shock, people would walk right up to you and start to speak in Swedish or German or Spanish – not even realizing or understanding that you didn’t understand.

There was another interesting moment and a poignant moment for me, when Henry Belon (Ewen McGregor) is shown in the movie calling his wife’s parents. McGregor struggles to explain that he has lost his wife and two of the children. On the other end of the line, you hear a father trying to comprehend what he is being told. That moment in the scene struck me also as very real.

I remember calling my parents back in Kansas, and trying to explain to them to “not be worried, but eventually they would see something on the television about a wave in Thailand, but that I had survived.” I remember her reaction was calm, almost unbelieving. Like many people in the world, true word and news of the devastation did not reach mainstream media until 4-6 hours after the first wave had hit. And even then, news stations like CNN reported that “…25 people had been killed…” No one knew the level of destruction until days later. The phone call was meant to tell someone that I was ok. But later, as I reflected on it, it was also a way to report to the outside world that I had lived. That I was ok.

As I talked about in my in my initial journal entries, I had a cell phone that lasted for hours that morning. Over 200 people used the phone to call home to places all around the world, mostly to say, “I am ok. I am alive.” For days afterwards, I continued to get return phone calls, asking to talk to people who had originally used the phone. I had no idea of how to find them or what to even say. But I would take down a phone number and description just in case. About 24 hours after the original calls, I started to get phone calls from individuals who had heard about my phone number from others who had heard from their loved ones. The cell phones that worked that day were important moments of comfort for many people that fateful day.

With other survivors this weekend, we talked about memories of things we had forgotten. We talked about the splitting of families, and the struggle on whether to move on to a hospital, or stay were you were to look for missing people. The movie accurately showed an element that has been a little embarrassing to discuss up until now. The speed and turbulence of the water as so strong, that it did remove clothes. IN the movie, Maria Belon is shown with ripped clothes. But it has been reported that she, like many others, had their clothes completed stripped away. Standing on the cliff, many survivors came to us completely naked, and bleeding badly.

We also talked about the “post 24 hour false tsunami warnings.” The next day, after the tsunami had struck, there would be moments in which you would be working to help clear debris, and suddenly, locals around you would start to run. At least 5-10 times, false warnings would be spread via cell phones to other cell phones. And people would just start running.

There were other details that the film didn’t show. The amount of dead bodies strewn about were tough. You see in the movie the rows of them at hospitals or make shift morgues. Most of that happened after about 24 hours. But before that, there were bodies jammed into debris everywhere.

Another item that even some of us as survivor disagreed on, were the number of waves. From my perspective, the waves, at least in Phuket started at about 10:00 am – and continued with swells that washed into the streets until 4:00 that afternoon. The first wave was small, but it was the second wave that was the tallest and most devastating. The wave you see in the movie made it look like it was the first wave of destruction. But most of us agree, that the size of that wave was actually the second. But I did read the real Maria Belon did agree that the six hours of relentless waves had been consolidated in order to get on with the movie. Fair enough. But as survivors, we just wanted everyone to know that water and waves were an issue for the first six hours. And not only did people lose their lives in those first waves, but they also tried to make a run for it afterwards, and were also struck and swept away in waves three, four and five.


 For the last 10 days, I have been reading some reviewers who need to point out what they didn’t like about the film. Most need to point out that the movie skips over or ignores the emotions of the locals. I don’t think that this is an “and/or” discussion. This movie was about 5 people and what happened to them. There could and should be another movie about the amazing local people that were also impacted by the tsunami. They also felt pain. They also lost loved ones. They were crying and hurt and scared just like people around us.

After the tsunami struck, many of the locals left the resort I was staying in. If they had survived, many had homes inland and left to go be with family. But not without grief. Most locals had an aunt or uncle or cousin who they knew were killed that day on the beach. But the process of finding and navigating and dealing with the process of finding / mourning and deciding what to do next was very different.

Each of the survivors I have connected with over the last days applaud this movie. We have a sense that others are really understanding what we went through. We also hope future movies can be made of what the locals also went through – not only in Thailand, but also in the other countries where 220,000 more people were killed.

It is likely that many of will have nightmares again for a few days. But the difference is this time, when we wake up, we can talk to people who have seen the film, and have a little better idea what we experienced.

Thanks to the actors Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast for bringing the characters to life. Thanks to Director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez for trying to make it real. Thanks to Maria Belon for sharing her survivor story with the world.

Because of this, a few of us are a little more healed.
(I invite other survivors to comment on their reaction to the movie. Or others to ask us questions. - Rick Von Feldt)

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Saturday, January 05, 2013

How the mobile phone saved my life

A new Discovery Channel Series is beginning to air this month in Asia and Europe – and will soon be airing in the US. It is called, “How We Invented The World.” It is a four-part series that examines the four inventions that define the modern world – mobile phones, cars, planes and skyscrapers. The series not only talks about the invention, but also “The People and connections that made them possible.”

The first episode features the mobile phone. For the episode, the producers learned of the impact the mobile phone had on me during the 2004 Asian Tsunami (my mobile phone story here). They came to San Francisco and interviewed me for the episode. And the in the first show, recreated the moments around the mobile phone and how it saved my life that day. If it had not been for the cousin of my taxi driver, and the mobile phone connection between the two, I might not be living today.

If you are in Asia, the episode airs this week. It has already aired in the UK, but you can find repeats. I have not seen the release date yet for the series in the US. I am impressed with the effort and research that went into each episode.

In the meantime, here is an excerpt about how the mobile phone helped save my life that day in Phuket, Thailand. (See video here).

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Thursday, January 03, 2013

"The Impossible" painfully shows the reality of a tsunami

Three days ago, I had the chance to sit in a theatre in San Francisco to see the limited release of "The Impossible." I am still trying to pick the best words to describe my reaction to the movie.

But I think that I can speak for tsunami survivors from around the world. This is the first time a movie has captured the chaos, pain and horror of the 2004 SE Asia tsunami.

There are many stories from the tsunami, many of which are captured on this website. This story is just one. For tourists who experienced the tsunami and survived, the movie shows many accurate emotions and realities of what happened. The best may be the feeling of what it was like to be in the swirling "washing machine like" swell of waves and water. And secondly, the sense of grief and frustration by so many people who wandered around for the 72 hours following the first wave, looking for missing family members.

It is not an easy movie to watch - neither for survivors or for movie goers. But it is real. Honest. And worth seeing.

I will post more reactions to the movies over the next several days, and so please check back. And if you were a survivor, and saw the movie, please also share your thoughts and reactions.

I have responded to a few online reviews and articles about the movies including these:

Emotional Deluge (The Economist)

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SURVIVOR John Thompson - Why I was one of the few to survive, I won't ever know.

John Thompson - Khao Lak Tsunami Survivor
Why I was one of the few to survive, I won’t ever know.
John Thompson, Khao Lak Tsunami Survivor

Information from the website of John Thompson. Reproduced here by permission.
Copyright © 2005-2010 John M. Thompson | Contact jmt@pon.net for photo use permission and questions/comments.
Thailand: 8,245 Dead

Why I was one of the few to survive I won't ever know. My fortune was partially due to luck and partially due to a few calculated gambles. This website tells the story of how I survived one of the world's most destructive natural disasters in modern history.

Having narrowly cheated death, I am left with a sense of extreme optimism for my future. Perhaps because I came so close to losing everything, that now every day of life seems like a new beginning. Being laid off from my job upon my return home was not a crisis. Combined with surviving the tsunami I saw it as an opportunity to reassess where my life has been going and how I could rebuild my career in a meaningful way.

This website is dedicated to the memory of the thousands who were less fortunate than I on the fateful day of 26 December 2004. Special thanks go to those I was with during and after the disaster - Petra, Bob, and Timothy. 

Here is a timeline of what happened to me those days in Khao Lak, Thailand.

Saturday, 25 December 2004 16:53:25
Arrived at Khao Lak. Explored area north of bungalow at Khaolak Orchid Beach Resort.

Enjoyed Christmas dinner at Ristorante Da Gorgio and then later had desert at a beach front bar.

Sunday, 26 December 2004 08:00

While laying on mattress, contemplating whether or not to sleep in longer, felt vibrating sensation for about two minutes. Did not think it was an earthquake and thought nothing of it after vibrating stopped.

9:00 Enjoyed breakfast at Mai's Quiet Zone on open patio overlooking the beach. Watched two boys from English family I had met when checking in the previous day playing frisbee in the waves.

9:45 Stopped by motorbike rental shop and paid 200 Baht for one more rental day.

10:00 Purchased souvenir shirt and some food at market across the street from motorbike rental shop.

10:10 Began motorbike journey with eventual goal of checking out the Poseidon Bungalows which had been recommended to me. Also intended on visiting the Ton Pling Waterfall on the way.

10:17 Unsuccessful attempt at finding "View Point" as listed on the map. Continued driving down the road.

10:21 Parked motorbike at Sea Gull Andaman Resort and walked down to inspect beach and what appeared to be an extremely low tide.

10:26:16 Noticed wooden longtail boat struggling in the water and eventually turn over. Also saw many people standing on the shore looking at something, which I then assumed was the struggling boat (but in retrospect I think they were looking at the approaching wave or the bay empty of water). Took camera out of bag to take picture of boat.

10:26:23 Seven seconds later: After taking picture of boat, the bay had already completely filled with water and I took picture of what I thought was just an extra large wave.

10:27:14 Fifty two seconds later: When I realized the wave was not stopping at the shore I and others at the beach began running as fast as possible. Since I already had the camera out, I took a picture over my shoulder as I ran, hoping to capture the rushing wave.

Running from the Waves - Photo by John Thompson

10:28:04 Fifty seconds later: It was obvious that the wave was not stopping and that I was not going to be able to outrun the wave so I ran up the front entrance to the nearest big building, dodging falling roof tiles, and hoping that the building would not be washed away or collapse. Took photo of now flooded street as I ran into the hotel.

10:31:41 Climbed up on wooden balcony railing and prayed I was high enough above the water. The water eventually came up to the top of the railing and then started receeding. Started taking photos as the water drained out.

View of the Courtyard - Photo by John Thompson

 Woman on mattress in the water

2004 11:01:04 Sought refuge in alcove at highest point in the building. Was bracing for additional waves which never came.

John Thompson, On the Roof - Waiting for the water to recede - Photo by John Thompson

12:04:16 Almost 2 hours after seeing the struggling boat, the water finally drained out far enough so that it seemed safe to walk out.

Walking Through The Rubble - Photo by John Thompson

12:20:34 Hitched ride on a passing pickup truck back into main beach of Khao Lak. Photographed some of the devastation as seen from the road.

Sunday, 26 December 2004

14:11:14 Photographed what was believed to be a second wave but which turned out to be a false alarm. Spent the rest of the day and night in safety on top of high hill.

Monday, 27 December 2004

09:27:39 After being scared back to the hill by several false alarms, Tim and I finally made our way through the wreckage to retreive some of his belongings from his third floor hotel room before beginning hike out of the area.

11:26:50 During another false alarm we were driven to military staging area where we were finally taken by private car to a bus station to catch VIP bus to Bangkok.

Friday 31 December 2004

06:59:32 Solomon and I inspected donated goods at military side of Bangkok airport while waiting for transport plane back to Krabi.

Saturday 1 January 2005

09:39:23 Distributed donations to owners of damaged longtail boats in Krabi area.

Saturday 1 January 2005

12:18:37 First return vist to Khao Lak area to determine extent of damage. Toured area and local hospitals with Jenny, a relief worker for American medical aid organization.

Sunday 2 January 2005

12:18:25 Toured ruined resort island of Phuket. Photographed destruction at Patong beach.

Daily Collection of recently found bodies - Photo by John Thompson

Uncovered bodies waiting to be identified - Photo by John Thompson

Monday 10 January 2005

14:55:03 Second return trip to Khao Lak. Distributed thousands of dollars of relief aid to refugee camp near Takua Pa.

Tuesday 11 January 2005

09:08:11 Final bit of aid work. Distributed donated money to Monitee Temple in Krabi.

Saturday 22 January 2005

07:12 Returned home to California after continuing trip to southern Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.

December 26, 2005

After coming within 15 seconds of an almost certain death one year ago today, one of the most common questions I am asked is "How did that experience change your perspective on life?" To answer that question, I look back on how I have lived during this past year. 

As all people realize who come so close to loosing everything, the only thing that really matters is life. While it is nice to have physical things without life none of those things matter. In recognition of this simple premise, I try to make the most of life, by continuing to travel, mixing work with play when possible, and developing new hobbies.

After returning from Thailand, I spent some additional time traveling, spending a month in Peru exploring the Amazon and climbing peaks high in the Andes. In May I came into possession of a new sailboat and have sailed almost every weekend since then. Beginning in July I started working again as an attorney. Although I currently work for a law firm, I continue to explore other career opportunities.

As for the future, I am sure the lessons from the tsunami will stay with me forever. Not one day has gone by where I have not somehow been reminded of the traumatic and overwhelming events of one year ago. I have not been able to answer the question as to why I survived when over 223,000 people did not, inlcuding the fact that 80% of Thailand's tsunami casualties occured in Khao Lak.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

How did an entire island SURVIVE the tsunami?

This is required reading. It is a remarkable story on how did an entire population survived the 2004 tsunami.

The people of Simeulue Island are smart. And they are survivors. Most of the the people of Simeulue Island, just 40 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, survived the 2004 tsunami. Nearby Banda Aceh lost over 100,000 people. But the people of Simeulue have been taught a simple lesson from their grandmothers, “If an earthquake comes, we must always go and look at the beach. If we see a low tide, we must run for the hills.” In 2004, the locals new a “smong” was coming. On Simeulue island, off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, in the Defayan language the word is smong means tsunami. And when they felt the earthquake and saw the low tide, they ran. And their lives were saved.  Most of the 83,000 people survived. Even the buffalos knew something was wrong when the earthquake happened. The buffalo ran for the hills.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

No Tsunami today. A sigh of relief. Warning systems worked.

Around the world, thousands breathed a sigh of relief today.

As the Sydney Morning Herald and many other news sources reported early today, a magnitude of 8.6,   earthquake happened off the Indonesian province of Aceh. It was one of the largest ever recorded.
Yet the massive tremor, which was followed by an 8.2-magnitude aftershock, did not cause a severe tsunami such as the one on December 26, 2004, which devastated countries around the Indian Ocean and killed more than 200,000.

What is important to know is why didn't the tsunami happen? What was the difference? This article from the Sydney Morning Herald helps to explain the difference in how the horizontal and vertical movements of the sea floors and where the quake took place

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/why-earthquake-did-not-cause-a-tsunami-20120412-1wvik.html#ixzz1rnntfJ8J

Fortunately, so far, there are no deaths reported from the earthquake.

The good news from this earthquake was the test of the new Tsunami Early Warning System. Within 6 minutes of receiving the news, authorities across S and SE Asia were warned, and sounded sirens and systems to tell people to move to higher grounds.

The San Francisco Chronical reported a quote from Thailand: "The warning system worked quite well," Smith Dharmasaraja, who headed Thailand's National Disaster Warning Center set up after the 2004 tsunami, said today by phone. "Officials know exactly what they are supposed to do."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stories of Survivors and Change after 8 years

Indonesia TsunamiSurvivor Returns To Home After 7 Years

15 year old Meri Yuranda was separated from her father and sister in Banda Aceh Indonesia during the tsunami. As an 8 year old, she was taken in by a women that made her beg on the streets. Later, she returned to her village of Meulaboh and found her family. A remarkable survivor story. Watch here.

Kids talk about what life was like in Indonesia when the tsunami hit. Unicef is helping restore life for the kids. Before the tsunami, military conflict made it difficult to even go to school. Now that has all changed. Watch the video here.

How has the Maldives Islands recovered after 8 years?
The tsunami hit the Maldives very hard. Life was difficult for the kids. How have people survived on the Maldives Islands, where 70% of the GDP was affected by the tsunami. 8,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Eight years later, there is still much damaged not repaired. Many people still live in camps due to entire islands and villages being destroyed. Watch here.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

SMS Tsunami Warning System - worth considering!

A goal plus the passion for business.

Out of the tsunami comes a group of people interested in insuring everyone has a warning. And a way to help others along the way!

Be sure to read more about


The Project
SMS-Tsunami-Warning.com is a commercial website created and developed by Virtuasoft Corp., a totally innovative software company with main office in Lugano, Switzerland.

The Basic Idea

Tsunamis are tidal waves of destruction: in our recent times we’ve witnessed apocalyptic scenes from Banda Ache (2004) and Japan (2011). But apparently, though on a smaller scale, Tsunamis occur anywhere every year, much more often than what the general public would expect.
What can we do about that?
Although we cannot prevent the nature from following its course nor predict earthquakes, we can do a lot in terms of communication: “early warnings” is the answer. Actually governments and international institutions have done a lot in this field in the last 20 years and technology played a strategic role in detecting global seismic activity in a very accurate and timely manner. But, seemingly there’s still a problem. If governments are aware that a tsunami is on its way, why do so many people die? It looks like “people just don’t know when a tsunami wave is gonna get them”.
Governments have done a lot but, still, they failed in setting up a mass communication system to alert people in need. This is the key point. We believe warnings should be sent on a 1-to-1 basis in order to make sure the message gets to every single individual in need; TV and Radio are just not enough.
The solution?
Mobile phones! We thought that Mobile Phones are the most effective communication tool for 2 reasons:
  • they are the most used communication device in the planet (see: cell phones usage by country);
  • mobile phones follow people anywhere they go.
Anybody on earth has access to mobile phones. Some mobile phones may not have internet access but, for sure, all of them are likely to have GSM network coverage. Sending messages to mobile phones is the ideal solution needed to setup a 1-to-1 communication model that may save thousand of lives on a global scale in the future.

The Website

SMS-Tsunami-Warning.com is our response.
Our website is a SMS Text Messaging platform interfaced with real time data on global seismic activity sourced from official seismic research centers.
As long as you are within GSM mobile coverage, we alert you and your loved ones if an Earthquake or a Tsunami affects or is about to affect your current location. Our platform is entirely internet-based, accessible worldwide and totally configurable. You setup your own account by selecting your current location so we can take care of you even when you travel.

The Mission

Our mission is to provide people with a global internet-based platform that delivers real time 1-to-1 warnings for natural disasters such as Earthquakes and Tsunamis. Our website is meant to empower populations to increase their chance of survival from these natural disasters.


SMS Tsunami Warning acknowledges the great work and thanks the government agencies worldwide for what they are doing towards tsunami early warning systems.
In particular SMS Tsunami Warning acknowledges the following agencies on whose information we and the world at large rely on:

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Forty-eight hours have passed since the Japan tsunami swept through Northern Japan. Tens of thousands of people are in emotional and physical turmoil right now in Japan.

Over the last hours, friends and several news show have contact me. In trying to help the world understand what is going on, they have asked me, "Rick, what are people feeling and thinking right now?"

My goal is to help people "feel" what survivors are feeling. It is one thing to see the horrific news clips on television. But I want everyone to at least try to understand what people are feelings at this moment.

When we watch television, we see numbers like "9,500 missing." But we are not sure if we should be thankful or sad. What we don't see are numbers like, "500,000 people have had their family, homes and lives taken away." And we don't get to see how they are feeling.

From my minutes and hours of being in the middle of the tsunami, to the hours and days afterwards in Thailand in 2004, I know what it feels like. There are so many emotions running through your body - your head - your soul. You can't even process all of them. One minute, you feel such sadness and loss. Then it becomes overwhelming, and you just sit and stare. Likely in shock. Then you try to think your way out of it - until it just becomes overwhelming again. And then you start the cycle all over again.

Based upon my minutes, hours and days after the SE Asia tsunami, here are some of the emotions and feelings people are likely experiencing right now in Japan.

SHOCK - mostly, it is beyond belief. Your brain nearly shuts down, and you almost feel that the only thing to do is to just get from one minute to the next.

FEAR OF ANOTHER ANY SECOND NOW - You are scared. Your brain tells you that if this one happened, then other will happen. In Thailand, at least 8 successive "waves" came into shore. On the television, they show the main wave over and over. But in the hardest hit areas, the waves go back and forth, as the water settles. And each time the wave comes back, even though it looks smaller than the last, it still rushes in, and pulls back with it more lives, buildings and hope. In Japan - the complication is even worse. Reports are that this "tsunami" is actually the result of a "aftershock" from an earthquake that happened over the previous two days. Everyone was used to these earthquakes. They had been happening. But this time, it causes such great destruction. And now, making the loss worse, is the feeling that the start of every tremor will simply get longer, stronger, and create yet again another tsunami - this time perhaps even stronger and more devastating.

Sidenote: When you move or travel in Japan, you never forget your first earthquake. For me, it was in 1997. I had arrived to work for a year. My first earthquake happened early in the morning. I was awakened by the shaking. I jumped up, and ran into the room of the family with whom I was staying. The mother spoke no English. All I could do was to look into her eyes to see if I could see fear. She did not look alarmed. And so, I could also calm down. Over time, I could always rely on the faces and the eyes of the Japanese to have an intuitive sense if this was going to be a bad earthquake. Fortunately for me, while in Japan, I never experienced a bad one. However, 48 hours ago, it was different. I talked to a colleague in Japan. He told me that this earthquake started out like normal. But this time, after 15 seconds, everyone looked into each others eyes. The earthquake started to get stronger. And longer. And this time, they looked into each other's eyes, and knew this one was going to be really bad.

NIGHT TIME IS THE WORSE - For so many reason, night time is the most frightening of all. First of all, the power is out all around you. And if you have some sort of power to make light, like oil or laterns or candles, you use them sparingly, not knowing for sure if you will need them for hours or days to come. But what is amazing is "how dark, dark really is." I never knew how dark things could be until you have a devastation that results in power loss. When every street lamp, car light or house light is out - then things are so pitch black that you can't even see in front of you. And your sense of hearing takes over. And what do you hear? Not cars or engines. Because nothing is moving. All you hear is the sound of water nearby. The rushing of waves. And that is the scariest thing of all. Your mind starts to play tricks on you. You wonder if another wave is coming. If it will be larger than the last. You think you are safe. You are on high land. But what if another wave comes even higher. This time, you won't even be able to see it. And all you can hear is the water.

FEAR ABOUT THE DEAD. It is something few ever experience in their life. But when you know that dead people are around you, it really scares you. You know that the water around you contains hundreds or thousands of dead people. In the light, before sunset, you could see the bodies floating in the water. And then waves would come, and take them away. And then more bodies would appear. A part of you becomes numb in seeing the dead bodies. But they are also frightening. Horror movies of your past, and religious views make you wonder about those bodies. And worse, if you have people that you have lost, then you are not sure if you should go look at those bodies or stay way. And if you stay away, what kind of respect are you showing. Yet, if you go to the bodies, what can you do?

FEAR ABOUT ELECTRICAL THINGS - After a tsunami hits, the power is out. You look around, and think, nothing is working. But electrical cables and wires are hanging everywhere. Your instinct makes you think that at least one of those wires will be live. Or how can they just shut off one of those wires. Or what happens if one of those wires are touching water, than happens to be connected to a puddle that you are standing in. And so, you nearly feel paralyzed about walking around, for fear that any move you make will electrocute you.

THE GOSSIP that happens is amazing. When all cell phones are knocked out, or jammed, no one knows who to believe. In the 72 hours after the SE Asia tsunami, people were walking around the destruction near the beach. And suddenly, everyone would just start to run. Everyone would run inland. And then you were faced with the dilemma. You had hear that no more tsunamis were coming. Yet, surely, someone had heard something. If you ran, then you ran in illogical fear. If you stayed, then you might not be seeing what someone else was seeing. At least 3-4 times when this happened, you would ask, "who said something was coming…" And often, the answer was "The Police." Yet no one knew which police. Perhaps it was a one policeman who said, "We have to be careful" - and that message was transferred multiple times until it was repeated as "Run!" Or perhaps it was some well meaning policeman trying to keep order on the beach, and so he simply thought it was a better method to say, "Another tsunami might be coming."

I would imagine the same thing is happening in Japan. But they have so much more to deal with. They have had tens of aftershocks. They have hear explosions. And now, they have rumors and realities of nuclear power plants melting down. The fear of the next destruction must be so high.

YOU WONDER IF ANYONE KNOWS. For the 24-78 hours, you wonder if the rest of the world know. When you are cut off from television and cell phones and electricity, you just wonder. You know that some help is starting to come around. But you get this feeling inside of you that, "If people really knew the level of devastation, they would be coming in with food and helicopters and ambulances." But when you look around, the rest of the world does not seem urgent. So perhaps, they don't really know. But then again, your perspective of what is urgent is so skewed that it is impossible to even trust your own reality.

FOOD AND DRINK. You really aren't hungry. At least in your mind. But your stomach begins to grumble. And because you can't think about the big things, you begin to wonder about food. And water. Every bottle of water - every packet of food becomes an instant treasure. And you know that without power, everything will begin to spoil quickly.

In Phuket, about 12 hours after the last of the big waves, we sent scavenger crews out to raid minibars on the hotel beaches. We sent them for water and softdrinks. They returned with little water, softdrinks and alcohol. And even then, you are having this odd moral dilemma in your own brain If you take things from a washed out hotel room, are you stealing? Do the rules of stealing change when you are just trying to find food and drink? Are you only making things worse?

THE SMELL - Within 24 hours, something bad begins to happen. Decay starts to set in. And the sell comes. It comes from decaying plantlife that has washed ashore. It comes from fishes from the sea that were swept in with the wave, but not taken away on the return to the sea. It comes from rotting food. And animals. And people. In Phuket, the smell started in pretty quickly, because the temperatures were in the 80+ degree F. range. As you would walk by piles of debris, a strong smell would come from beneath. And you walked on quickly, fearing what might really be under that pile of rubble. The other thing you could also smell - and see - were oil and gasoline slicks. Whether it was from cars or heating oil or tankers - there seemed to be a sheet of oil on the water and ground around you. Which then made your mind wonder, "Will that all start on fire?"

THE BUGS follow the decay. In Thailand, as well as in Japan, they spray much and often for mosquitoes. Once the small puddles of water pooled, the bugs followed. And then you became very concerned of the diseases you might get from those bugs.

CRYING BABIES - I can remember that so many children were crying. They would cry non-stop. If the parents were in shock, then children are just confused. And they are disrupted. There is not way they can make sense of what is going on. They want their normalcy. They want a family member they may not be able to have. They want sleep. And yet, they are denied it. Instead, they look around and see adults crying. And they are confused. And so they just cry and cry and cry.

FITS OF CRYING FOR ADULTS. Most of the time, you are just trying to think of the next moment. But for individuals who have lost things - all they can grasp is how much in life they have just lost. Likely, theh are missing at least one family member. And gone is their home, their possessions, Their home. Their car. Realization begins to set in. You have lost everything. Memories. Homes. Livelihood. People. Neighbors. And your emotions are all over the place. You go from being thankful to be alive to the realization of what you have lost. And you cry for both. You cry to yourself. You cry on the arms of shoulders of people around you. You just cry.

SADNESS FOR THE YOUNG AND THE OLD - There is a gnawing feeling that you don't want to accept. You look around, and realize that there are not many young. And many old. And you instinctively know that it is because they are gone. They didn't make it.

AND YOU WONDER IF YOU COULD HAVE DONE MORE - after awhile, while sitting in shock, you begin to wonder what else you could have done. Whom else you could have saved. Could you have screamed louder. Grabbed more people? Run faster?

SURVIVOR LISTS become an obsession. You become desperate to know about the people you are missing. You just hope - pray - that they are somewhere else. And then the rumors begin about the survivor lists. You hear about locations where people are gathering You here there are long lists of names and you know - just know - that the people you are missing are on those lists. You say you will go find those lists. But then you sit down again, feeling paralyzed to do so.

COMMERCE BECOMES CONFUSING - If a store has survived, then it is a prized place because it might have food and water. And so families and employees go there to guard the supplies. But then people start to show up - needing and wanting food. Yet, for most, items like money and credit cards are gone. And so, for shop keepers - they are torn between if they should offer food or really only sell it.


Well - those are only a few of the emotions that people feel in the hours after a tsunami. I have not visited them in so many years - seven to be exact. But they are all still there. They are real memories. And seeing the paces and destruction of the people on the coast North shores of Japan, I see in their eyes that they are feeling it too.

For Japan, the culture of organization and preparation adds to the complexity. In a culture where everything is so prepared and organized and calm, I am sure things are even more overwhelming than ever.

What can you do? Just understand. If you meet someone who has gone through the tsunami, have patience. When they are ready to talk, they will talk.  If you are a survivor, and are ready to share you story, share it here for others to read.

And lastly, just hug your loved ones tonight!

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