Link to teaching case: 


On December 26, 2004, an earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter Scale and centered off the west coast of Sumatra triggered tsunamis that moved through the Indian Ocean. The region had no tsunami monitoring devices, and in some of the world's poorest nations there was no system for alerting the public about any kind of emergency. At resorts and villages on the coasts of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and other countries, people worked and played on the beach, unaware of the impending disaster.Within hours of the earthquake, waves up to 100 feet high inundated the coasts of 14 countries, destroying everything in their path. Thousands of people were smashed into buildings or swept out to sea. Soon after the Tsunami struck, the international community rallied behind rescue and relief efforts, and many governments, non-profit and private organizations contributed significantly in different forms. These efforts included volunteer work to rehabilitate the affected people, private firms contributing their expertise in areas such as logistics and information technology, and international organizations working to kick-start the economy by providing financial support.However, these efforts also brought to light many challenges of rescue and relief in terms of coordination with the broader international community and local governments.In the first place, the Asian Tsunami was an enormous test for the international community engaged in humanitarian relief, recovery and development. The tsunami also highlighted the need for a quality Early Warning System for Tsunamis in the region. The countries affected had varying degrees of internal political strife at the time the tsunami hit. Sri Lanka and Indonesia had long standing civil wars. These complicated the rescue and relief efforts. There are many leadership lessons to be learned from the 2004 tsunami. The importance of continuous relationship building between the private sector, the public sector and the non-profit sector is one such lesson. The need for leaders of a rescue and relief effort to deeply understand internal politics and needs of the local people in each affected country, and the critical importance of encouraging local citizens to identify their priority needs and organize their own efforts is another. Third, the importance of high quality disaster monitoring equipment is also critical.


Andrea Nagy Smith and Jeffrey Garten


Yale School of Management

Pub date: 

Monday, October 10, 2011