The National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP) recognizes Tsunami Preparedness Week during the last week in March to coincide with the date of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunamis.
Some states and territories recognize other times of the year, and this year that includes:
- March 19-27: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
- March 25-31: Alaska
- March 27-31: California
- April: Hawaii
- April 2-8: Guam
- April 12-15: Washington
- September 24-30: American Samoa
- October: Oregon, Washington
The two biggest ones in recent history are the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed upwards to 250,000 people, and Japan's 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake/Tsunami which killed in excess of 15,000 people.
While less deadly, Alaska's 1964 earthquake produced significant tsunami effects both locally, and thousands of miles away, killing 5 in Oregon and 13 in California. Chile's 1960 Valdivia earthquake sent a train of tsunamis across the Pacific, causing heavy damage and loss of life in Hawaii, Japan, and beyond (see NOAA Report).
While we think of these disasters as primarily localized events, impacting a few thousand square miles, the photo above shows how our oceans can transfer the released energy from an earthquake, meteor strike, volcanic eruption, or undersea landslide across distances of thousands of miles in the form of a tsunami (or more likely, a series of tsunami waves).
The west coast of North America, since it is vulnerable to tsunamis generated by seismic events in Japan, Alaska, the South Pacific - and even the long expected `big one' off the Pacific Northwest's coast (see Just A Matter Of Time) - is viewed as the most `at risk' region of the United States and Canada.
But two years ago, in The Caribbean’s Hidden Tsunami Potential (Revisited), we looked at that region’s history – and potential – for generating tsunamis that could affect the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coastlines of the United States, along with Mexico, Central America, and South America.
- This past week Tsunami preparedness drills were held for the Caribbean (March 21: Exercise - Caribe Wave (3 scenarios: Costa Rica, Cuba, and Northern Lesser Antilles) and for the Atlantic (March 22: Exercise - Lantex (Off Portugal)).
- This coming week (March 29th), Exercise - Pacifex (Off British Columbia) will take place. Last summer, FEMA, the Canadian government, and many other agencies took part in the massive Cascadia Rising 2016 drill, to prepare for the (likely overdue) `big one' striking the Pacific Northwest.
While you may think it unlikely that a tsunami will affect you or your region - they are just one of many potential hazards that may threaten you and your community - and they all require similar preparedness steps.
Knowing your local threats, whether they be tsunamis, forest fires, floods, earthquakes or hurricanes . . . and then becoming prepared to deal with them, will provide you and your family the best safety insurance available.
As far as what to do before a tsunami threatens, READY.GOV has a Tsunami Awareness Page with helpful hints. NOAA provides several useful documents, including a Tsunami Zone PDF (see below) and Tsunami Web page.
Since you can't predict what disaster you might someday have to face, it makes sense to maintain a general level of preparedness against `all threats’.
Everyone needs an appropriate family disaster plan, just as everyone should have a good first aid kit, an Emergency NOAA Weather radio, a `bug-out bag’, and sufficient emergency supplies to last a bare minimum of 72 hours.
As the graphic above from NOAA advises, people should consider maintaining a 2-week supply of supplies in their home. A topic I address in When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough.
As we move into the spring severe storm season, and ultimately back into the Atlantic Hurricane season, now is a good time to review and refresh your emergency preparedness plans.
A couple of my (many) blogs on this subject include: