Rapid onset natural hazards have claimed more than 2.8 million lives worldwide in the past 20 years. This category includes such events as earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, tornados, floods, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and tsunamis. Effective hazard mitigation is particularly difficult in such cases, since the time available to issue warnings can be very short or even nonexistent. This paper presents the concept of a local warning system that exploits and integrates the existing technologies of risk evaluation, environmental measurement, and telecommunications. We describe Project THRUST, a successful implementation of this general, systematic approach to tsunamis. The general approach includes pre-event emergency planning, real-time hazard assessment, and rapid warning via satellite communication links.