In the wake of Japan’s tsunami disaster, 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.
In a message issued by the White House this week, President Barack Obama acknowledged that although the danger posed by tsunamis cannot be eliminated, NOAA’s efforts within the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program to work with local communities on hazard assessment, evacuation planning, and educational outreach can help save lives by equipping citizens to effectively respond to emergency situations.
The President also said the heartbreaking loss of life from the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan reflects the catastrophic damage these unexpected disasters can cause.
“As we offer our assistance to those impacted by this tragedy, we also renew our commitment to ensuring preparedness along our shores,” the President said. “Efficient warning systems and awareness in coastal communities are vital to protecting Americans in at-risk areas of the country.”
This week should also serve as a crucial reminder for all Americans to take the time to get prepared now, before disaster strikes. Anyone can visit www.ready.gov to learn how.
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. As a result of this investment, the nation and world are better prepared for the next tsunami. For example, 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.
Tsunami preparedness activities
Here are some of the tsunami preparedness activities happening this week:
- 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.
Warning Signs of a Tsunami
- A strong earthquake, or one that persists for 20 seconds or longer
- The ocean withdraws or rises rapidly
- A loud, roaring sound (like an airplane or a train) coming from the ocean
- Tsunami warnings broadcast over television and radio, by beach lifeguards, community sirens, text message alerts, National Weather Service tsunami warning center Web sites and on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards
What You Should Do if You See These Signs
- Keep calm
- Immediately move to your local tsunami shelter using defined tsunami evacuation routes
- If there are no evacuation routes defined, move to higher ground that is at least 100 feet in elevation, a mile inland, or to the highest floor of a sturdy building and STAY there.
- If you are already in a safe location, STAY there
- Move on foot when possible - do not drive – keep roads clear for emergency vehicles
- Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio or news broadcasts for changes in tsunami alerts
- Stay away from the coast and low-lying areas until local officials say it’s safe to return
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. Visit us online at weather.gov and on Facebook.