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Indian Ocean Tsunami

On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude-9.0 undersea earthquake occurred near the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, causing a series of tsunamis that devastated the coastline of 13 countries near the Indian Ocean.

When reports of the earthquake and resulting tsunami reached the United States, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency sprang into action. Contingency plans were activated to ensure that mariners and relief workers entering the affected landmasses had the best possible understanding of the situation they would encounter and that national and international leadership had the best information at hand to assist them in determining where to send help.

NGA tapped both national and commercial sources to provide the most complete, timely and accurate information. Analysts used national imagery to assess damage to specific structures while products derived from commercial imagery showed the overall scope of the damage, which was called “apocalyptic devastation and destruction” by then NGA director, James Clapper.

NGA provided imagery products of the affected areas to the Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, U.S. Pacific Command and other government agencies. Many NGA products were also shared with the United Nations and international relief organizations.