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National Science Foundation
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Credit: Trent Schindler, National Science Foundation

The key to learning from any disaster—whether tsunami, earthquake, storm, fire or volcano—is to gather as much data as possible, as quickly as possible. Like evidence from a fresh crime scene, the information is fragile; critical clues about the cause and effects of the calamity are altered or lost with each passing hour, as people rush to rescue and care for victims, restore services and keep the peace. Therefore, it is vital to gather information as quickly as possible, before it disappears forever.

With that potential data loss in mind, NSF’s Learning from Earthquakes (LFE) rapid-response program quickly dispatched dozens of researchers to the devastated regions of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and other areas around the Indian Ocean. LFE is administered by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, a national, nonprofit, technical society of engineers, geoscientists, architects, planners, public officials and social scientists.

Once on the scene, these U.S. investigators teamed with local scientists to study the aftermath, even as still more researchers were arriving under other auspices.

Here are some of their stories.

By Elizabeth Malone
A Special Report After the Tsunami