Environment Forum

Appropriately enough, it’s National Tsunami Awareness Week

March 24, 2011

The U.S. government has announced this as National Tsunami Awareness Week, starting just days after a disastrous tsunami powered over Japan’s northeast coast. Not that anyone necessarily needed reminding.

This week’s advisory, which urges U.S. residents to be prepared for a damaging series of waves, was scheduled before the March 11 Japanese catastrophe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the second annual observance of Tsunami Awareness Week. It’s too soon to tell if there might be a pattern emerging: last year’s observance came not long after a giant wave hit the Chilean port of Talcahuano following an 8.8 magnitude quake along Chile’s coast.

Here’s how the Japanese tsunami spread its force across the Pacific:

While the United States may not seem like a prime tsunami target, the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska have long been susceptible. NOAA notes the United States has more coastline than any country on Earth and is in proximity to several major fault lines. Any coastline is potentially in a tsunami’s path.

Because the danger from tsunamis can’t be eliminated, NOAA is concentrating on preparedness, including its main tsunami website. President Barack Obama stressed early warning systems in a statement this week.

JAPAN-QUAKE“As we offer our assistance to those impacted by this tragedy, we also renew our commitment to ensuring preparedness along our shores,” Obama said. “Efficient warning systems and awareness in coastal communities are vital to protecting Americans in at-risk areas of the country.”

The deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami prompted a $150 million investment in expanding the U.S. tsunami detection and warning capabilities, outreach and education, and research. This funding also supported a global tsunami warning and education network.

As a result, NOAA said, 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.

A tsunami might be coming if: there’s a strong earthquake, or one that lasts for 20 seconds or more; the ocean withdraws or rises rapidly; there’s a loud, roaring sound (like an airplane or a train) coming from the ocean.

If any of these signs are present, NOAA says you should: get to your local tsunami shelter along a defined evacuation route; if there aren’t defined evacuation routes, move to higher ground that’s at least 100 feet in elevation, a mile inland or to the highest floor of a tall, sturdy building and STAY THERE (NOAA’s emphasis). If you have to move around, go on foot — leave roads clear for emergency vehicles.

NOAA also recommends that you keep calm.

Photo credit: NASA ( Ocean waters flood croplands and settlements lining the Kitakami River in Miyagi Prefecture in this NASA false-color satellite image acquired on March 14, 2011, after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11)

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