Indonesian tsunami and earthquake: U-M experts available

October 1, 2018
Contact: Jim Erickson

Concept illustration of an earthquake and tsumani waves. Illustration credit: Ilma Bilic


More than 840 people were killed by a magnitude-7.5 earthquake and a tsunami that struck Indonesia last Friday. The death toll is expected to keep rising. University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the situation.

Ben Van Der Pluijm headshot

Ben van der Pluijm

Ben van der Pluijm is an earthquake geologist and a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He is an expert on geological hazards and their impacts, as well as societal resilience to environmental change.

“The long, narrow Bay at Palu, Sulawesi, focused the ocean waves generated by the earthquake, which was otherwise not a tsunamic quake,” he said. “As waves entered the strait, they had nowhere to go but up, resulting in a geographically limited tsunami with damaging impact.

“The powerful magnitude-7.5 earthquake was the result of lateral slip faulting and was preceded and followed by multiple magnitude 5-6 quakes along a 200-kilometer segment. Vigorous shaking created significant impact in this densely populated, earthquake-prone region, where most buildings are not quake resistant.

“Globally, we get about 15 magnitude 7-8 earthquakes a year and should expect a few more before year’s end.”

Contact: 734-678-1397,, @vdpluijm

Sue Anne Bell

Sue Anne Bell

Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor of nursing, is particularly interested in the long-term health effects of disasters, in developing policy that protects and promotes health throughout the disaster management cycle, and in the relationship between community resilience, health disparities and disasters.

“Emerging reports about Indonesia’s tsunami warning buoys being defective are heartbreaking,” she said. “Emergency preparedness can save an untold number of lives, but a commitment to maintaining standards of preparedness must be in place, and stay in place, in order to do that.”

Contact: 734-647-0341,

Dean Yang

Dean Yang

Dean Yang, professor of economics and public policy, is an expert on the economic effects of natural disasters and how well disaster losses are buffered by international financial flows, such as foreign aid and foreign direct investment.


Contact: 734-764-6158,



Aubree Gordon, assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, works on infectious disease epidemiology and global health. She can discuss the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases after a natural disaster.


Contact: 734-763-3580,



Harley Etienne, assistant professor of urban planning, has studied post-disaster recovery planning in the Haitian context. He can speak to the residual issues from 2010 that may have placed many people in danger during Hurricane Matthew because they lacked durable shelter.

“Early reports suggest that some of the loss of life can be attributed to the failure of early warning systems which were themselves tied to power and communication systems failures. Like in many other disasters before it, immediate aid and recovery will be paramount in the coming days and weeks. However, it will be necessary in the medium to long term to investigate how governments around the world can prevent similar breakdowns in early warning systems.”

Contact: 734-763-2075,