There is often no advance warning of an approaching tsunami. However, since earthquakes are often a cause of tsunami, any earthquake occurring near a body of water may generate a tsunami if it occurs at shallow depth, is of moderate or high magnitude, and the water volume and depth is sufficient.
If the first part of a tsunami to reach land is a trough (draw back) rather than a crest of the wave, the water along the shoreline may recede dramatically, exposing areas that are normally always submerged. This can serve as an advance warning of the approaching tsunami which will rush in faster than it is possible to run. If a person is in a coastal area where the sea suddenly draws back (many survivors report an accompanying sucking sound), their only real chance of survival is to run for high ground or seek the high floors of high rise buildings.
In the 2004 tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean drawback was not reported on the African coast or any other eastern coasts it inundated, when the tsunami approached from the east. This was because of the nature of the wave - it moved downwards on the eastern side of the fault line and upwards on the western side. It was the western pulse that inundated coastal areas of Africa and other western areas. About 80% of all tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean, but are possible wherever large bodies of water are found, including inland lakes. They may be caused by landslides, volcanic explosions, bolides and seismic activity.
Regions with a high risk of tsunami may use tsunami warning systems to detect tsunami and warn the general population before the wave reaches land. On the west coast of the United States, which is prone to Pacific Ocean tsunami, warning signs advise people of evacuation routes.