U.S. Coastlines Should Be Prepared for Potential Tsunamis

March 23, 2011

In the wake of Japan’s tsunami disaster, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is urging Americans who live and vacation at the coast to take the threat of tsunamis seriously. With more coastline than any other country in the world and proximity to several major fault lines, the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean coasts of the United States are vulnerable to tsunamis. NOAA’s National Weather Service, which operates the U.S. tsunami detection and warning system, says that the key to surviving a tsunami is staying informed and moving quickly to higher ground when a tsunami threatens.

“As we offer our assistance to those impacted by this tragedy, we also renew our commitment to ensuring preparedness along our shores,” said Predident Barack Obama. “Efficient warning systems and awareness in coastal communities are vital to protecting Americans in at-risk areas of the country.”

March 20-26, designated as National Tsunami Awareness Week, serves as a reminder for all Americans to get prepared now, before disaster strikes. Anyone can visit www.ready.gov to learn how, NOAA said.

Following the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Congress provided NOAA with more than $150 million to expand the nation’s tsunami detection and warning capabilities, outreach and education and research, and provided support for a global tsunami warning and education network. To date, 83 U.S. coastal communities have earned the National Weather Service TsunamiReady designation, up from only 11 in 2004. This program prepares emergency managers to warn citizens during a tsunami emergency.

The National Weather Service operates two tsunami warning centers, in Palmer, Alaska, and Ewa Beach, Hawaii. The centers, staffed 24/7, issue tsunami alerts (watches, warnings, advisories and information statements) as early as two minutes after an earthquake. Upon receipt of tsunami alerts, state and local emergency management agencies determine the appropriate response, including whether to clear the beaches, sound sirens or evacuate people.

This week, communities will be hosting several tsunami preparedness activities:

  • On March 23, the National Weather Service and many states, including the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will test and practice tsunami response plans. This will be the first Caribbean-wide tsunami exercises. These exercises — ranging from table top exercises to full-scale drills and beach-front evacuations — provide an opportunity for coastal emergency management organizations to test and update emergency response plans for tsunamis. They also provide coastal residents and businesses an opportunity to review and practice tsunami response plans.
  • The National Weather Service will host open houses at its Tsunami Warning Centers in Alaska and Hawaii.
  • Alaska will host a “quake cottage” in conjunction with the open house there to highlight earthquake and tsunami preparedness.
  • Many coastal states will host community tsunami awareness activities.
  • NOAA and the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program will release a National Tsunami Media Guidebook and Puerto Rico will issue a media tool-kit for the Commonwealth.
  • California will distribute outreach materials to coastal communities.
  • Washington’s state-local tsunami workgroup will participate in a table top exercise to test current response and evacuation capabilities as well as short and long-term sheltering protocols.

NOAA’s National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA’s National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. For more information, visit www.weather.gov.

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