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How to respond to tsunamis in times of social distancing? Follow the regional guidelines

Date: 28 May 2020

Prepared by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), in consultation and collaboration with expert working groups within the Intergovernmental Coordination Groups (ICGs), the COVID-19 tsunami response guidelines provide specific instructions for each of the four regions covered by tsunami early warning systems: the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the North-eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean (and connected seas).

These guidelines aid to clarify possible confusion generated by COVID-19 sanitary priorities and regulations in regard to response actions during a tsunami warning such as evacuation and sheltering.

“There is general acceptance that the life-saving response to an imminent natural hazard should take priority over mitigation measures instated during a pandemic. However, proper advance planning can assist in adopting procedures to minimize the spread of infection during evacuation and sheltering,” argues Thorkild Aarup, Head of the Tsunami Unit within the Secretariat of UNESCO’s IOC.

Best practices for evacuation during a pandemic are not unique to tsunami hazard. The same guidelines could apply to other coastal hazards such as storm surges generated by tropical storms, floods and flash floods. It may be recalled how the recent cyclone Amphan that occurred during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic necessitated large scale evacuations in Bangladesh and India.

Beyond best practices for evacuation and sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic, the guidelines include details of regional tsunami services, to be used by national authorities responsible for the organisation of tsunami warning and emergency response to develop nationally coordinated guidelines.

The four regional guidelines published by UNESCO’s IOC were complemented by a special national version for Indonesia, considering the country’s tragic recent history of tsunamis since the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, including the more recent Sulawesi and Sunda Strait tsunamis in September and December 2018, respectively.

The Guidelines for Tsunami Response during COVID-19 can be downloaded from the links below as well as via the website of IOC’s Tsunami Programme (

Regional Guidelines

Pacific Ocean

North-eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean (and connected seas)

Indian Ocean


National Guidelines



For further information, please contact:

Thorkild Aarup, Head of Tsunami Programme, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO: