Tsunamis are among the most destructive natural disasters in the world. Here in the US, we’re much more used to hurricanes and tornadoes, but two of the worst disasters in the past decade have been tsunamis. The 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia killed around 200,000 people, and the 2011 tsunami in the Pacific caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, possibly the worst nuclear disaster in history. But tsunamis themselves are relatively misunderstood by the general public, often being referred to as “tidal waves,” despite the fact they have nothing to do with tides.

In this handy animation by TED on YouTube, Alex Gendler explains how tsunamis work, and how we can best prepare for them so we can avoid catastrophes like the 2004 tsunami or the Fukushima disaster. It turns out, on an individual level, the best option is to simply run away — preferably inland and to higher ground. But you need to be warned to be able to do that, which means international warning systems are an important element of tsunami preparation as well.

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