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The importance of tsunami preparedness in the United States

By Jay Alan

The one-year anniversary of the Tohoku Japan earthquake brings renewed attention to the devastation and the vast recovery still facing the Japanese people.  Our hearts and thoughts remain with the victims and families.  But the tragedy should underscore the need for us to maintain focus, from an emergency preparedness perspective, not only to earthquake danger but also the danger of a tsunami. Yes, even in the United States.

March 26-30 is Tsunami Awareness Week in California.  Now most of you reading this may not live in my home state.  But you don’t have to be a resident of the Golden State to pay attention to the dangers.  How many of us go on vacation to the beach?  How many of the folks on the East Coast thought an earthquake would shake the Capital Region last August?  When you go to Hawaii, or the Caribbean, or the Gulf Coast, do you think of a tsunami?  I think we all know the answer.

I spent my evening after the Tohoku earthquake managing the State Operations Center in California.  An event thousands of miles away was soon going to probably affect my state, and every other state on the West Coast, along with my friends in British Columbia and Mexico.  We made decisions to ‘light up’ the road signs urging people to get to higher ground.  City and County emergency officials implemented plans that ultimately worked.  The only loss of life in California from the tsunami was not because of a lack of preparation or warning; it was someone who walked towards the oncoming tsunami to take pictures.  Still, the loss of life is painful, as is the tens of millions of dollars in damage done to the ports of Crescent City and Santa Cruz, whose economies are still recovering.

If you live along a coast (or even a large lake that may be in danger of a Seiche Wave, the inland equivalent of a tsunami), find the inundation zone, the escape route, and make a plan.  If you are heading to a coastline for a vacation, do the same thing.  One of the lessons learned in the Chile earthquake is many of the casualties came not from locals who knew the quake could trigger a tsunami, but from those visiting the coast who didn’t.

In San Diego, they urge “get two miles inland or 40 feet up.”  Simple advice.  Take it.  You hopefully will live to tell about it and help your community recover.

Jay Alan is vice president for the Adfero Group.