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Tsunami Preparedness Week 2015

Tsunami Preparedness Week 2015

Sea Grant helps communities plan, prepare, and respond

Tsunamis have been a reality for coastal communities for as long as humans have lived near the shore.  NOAA Sea Grant has been working with coastal communities for many years to help residents understand tsunami risks, reduce their vulnerability and respond quickly.

Here is a sample of some of the work Sea Grant programs have been doing in tsunami preparedness. 

University of Hawaii Sea Grant has supported cutting-edge tsunami research, including an improved prediction model and maps for tsunami run-up and coastal inundation from researcher Kwok Fai Cheung.  Inundation maps help island and emergency managers know which areas are at risk during tsunamis. Cheung’s model, which takes water level data near the tsunami source and provides an accurate estimation of the tsunami size, providing a clearer picture of potential damage, has been implemented for tsunami inundation mapping in Hawaii, the US Gulf Coast states, Puerto Rico, Chile, American Samoa and adapted by NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory into a tsunami forecasting tool.  

Oregon Sea Grant takes tsunami preparedness very seriously.  Pat Corcoran, the Oregon Sea Grant Coastal Hazard Specialist, has developed workshops, videos and guides on tsunami preparedness.  Corcoran says that there are three things everyone near a coast should know about tsunamis.  First, there are two kinds of tsunamis – local and distant. 

“If you feel an earthquake, it’s a local event,” says Corcoran. “Large earthquakes cause large tsunamis. If you’re at or above 50 feet elevation, stay there. If not, run for the highest spot you can get to within 15 minutes. “ 

Corcoran goes on to explain that if you hear a siren, then you should get more information – it is probably a distant event and you may have hours before you need to evacuate.  As part of his work, Corcoran has created messages tailored to his audiences (for example, fishermen, realtors and homeowners).  He is also working with local businesses to train their staff how to respond in the event of a tsunami, for both personal safety and the safety of their customers.  

Maximum wave amplitudes from the March 2011 Honshu tsunami. Credit: NOAA
Oregon Sea Grant has led the way in developing recognizable tsunami evacuation signage. The signs also have been adopted in Washington, California, Alaska and Hawaii. Now, the warning signs are going global. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, the Oregon Sea Grant design was posted on new warning signs along Thai beaches as part of Thailand's new National Disaster Warning Centre. 

The Pacific Coast of the United States is not alone in its vulnerabilities to tsunamis.  Just north of the islands of Puerto Rico, lies the Puerto Rico trench with its large subduction zone, which creates a very real tsunami threat for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico Sea Grant actively participates in the development of a Caribbean tsunami warning system similar to the one in the Pacific Region. Their work also sheds light on public perceptions of risks and the economic impacts of coastal hazards.   

Delaware Sea Grant participated in a NOAA Tsunami Awareness Workshop, and established connection with Delmarva Emergency Task Force members and NOAA tsunami education/outreach groups. They also shared information about Dr. James Kirby (University of Delaware Sea Grant funded coastal engineering researcher) and his modeling work related to tsunami hazards on the U.S. East Coast. 

You can find more information and resources on the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program website.

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