Tsunami Readiness

Living on the West Coast of the Pacific Northwest has taught me a few things about tsunami warnings and how to prepare.  Here are 10 things you need to know about a possible tsunami natural disaster.

1) Familiarize yourself with the local area’s tsunami warning systems that are in place.  Most small coastal towns in the US have a siren system similar to the old 1960s air raid sirens.  They are unmistakable.  When they sound, that means you should probably evacuate the area.  Coastal areas also now provide road signs as to an evacuation route.  They are light blue with a small white wave on them.  They are not always the best indicators if they lead you nowhere or to low-level bay areas.  Your best bet (which old timers’ will tell you) is to head to the highest elevation such as lighthouses or state parks which would have public accommodations.

2) Many cities provide a reverse 911 call on your phone or other warnings.  Heed these as the time to get your things together.

3) You cannot tell a tsunami by simply looking out over the beach areas.  This is because the strength lies in the tidal pulls and push or energy which occurs 90 percent below the water’s surface.  You might see unusual wave activity reaching 8 feet high or better and you might see the tide being pulled out rather far during a time it is not supposed to go out.  The press has even reported reverse course of currents down nearby river channels.  The energy in the water is stronger than anything you can even imagine.

4) Do not go out to the beach areas to look.  The press has reported whole families gathering along Northwest coastal ranges during a tsunami warning.  You should never turn your back to the tide or sit on large rocks and driftwood pieces.  You should be heading inland.  Ocean water is salt water, not like rivers and lakes, and NOT easy on the eyes and lungs with strong currents that can wash you out to sea.  Even during normal times, sneeker waves have been known to take out waders and sun bathers. 

5) Make sure you have a preparedness pack ready.  Here are some of the best things I have found to include.  Windup flashlights or handheld flashlights that recharge themselves by pumping or winding without need for batteries.  If they include a radio or clock even better.  These are sold through catalogs, online and such places as L.L. Bean or other outdoor outfitters.  Dried or other foods well wrapped that do not have to be cooked like Granola Bars, Pudding Cups, Mandarin Oranges, Canned Tuna, Chicken and Roast Beef, Peanut Butter or anything that provides protein.  Dried milk and soup, rice, instant potatoes and the like only need hot water added to create food. Warm water-proof AND WIND PROOF clothing are essential.  Bottled water.  Cash (ATMs may be disabled). Cell phone or wireless computer.  Waterproof watch.  Liquid soap in small bottle.  Lighter for fires.  Paper towels.  Eating utensils (not plastic they bend and melt) and disposable aluminum pans, bowls and mugs.  Instant coffee or tea. Sugar or hard candies of some kind.  Crackers and cheese in packets. A hood or waterproof hat.  Good gloves.  Acrylic lightweight and easily dryable blankets as well as insulated heavy-duty comforters.  Plastic sheeting or tarps.  Rope or bungie cords.  Duct tape.  Medical kit including aspirin, scissors, shaving razor, sewing essentials.  Do not forget any of your life-saving medications and write on your arm with indelible ink what medics need to know.

6) A water department employee gave me an excellent idea one time during a disaster – fill your bathtub up with cold water in case the water goes out.  It is quicker and holds more than trying to cart around water bottles.  Even filling a laundry washer would work.

7) Forget about filling the car with gas as so many do.  Unless you are hours ahead of the disaster, your car will be going nowhere or be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic anyway.  Get out your bike or kayak which can maneuver though high water.  Inflatable boats are only good if they can be used within minutes.  At the very least, you might want a floatation device or vest or in the alternative an air mattress.

8) If there are going to be aftershocks or other earthquake like activities coming, remove glassware from shelves and mirrors from walls well in advance.  You can place a mattress in front of dining room cupboards or sliding glass doors.

9) Tsunamis are very real and very destructive.  As the incident in Japan has shown, the tidal waves can reach miles inland.  You may want to turn off your electricity and/or gas before evacuating the area.  If you do not have family to stay with nearby, head to places inland like designated shelters, restaurants or other public accommodations who have food, heat, water and restrooms available and where other people will be gathered.

10) The Katrina flooding in Louisiana changed the laws about taking your pets with you.  California even brought their horses into the football stadium emergency shelters.  Make sure your pet is wearing identification and has enough food and water as well.  Do not chain up, crate or otherwise obstruct the animal if you are leaving them behind.  Post a note on your residence that a pet needs rescue inside.