tsunamis have occurred in your area by
contacting your local emergency management office, state geological survey,
National Weather Service (NWS) office, or American Red Cross chapter. Find out
your area’s flooding elevation.
Why talk about
tsunamis are potentially dangerous however most do not cause significant damage.
Twentyfour tsunamis have caused damage in the United States and its territories
in the past 200 years. Since 1946, six tsunamis have killed more than 350 people
and caused significant property damage in Hawaii, Alaska, and along the West
Coast. Tsunamis have also occurred in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. When a
tsunami comes ashore, it can cause great loss of life and property damage.
Tsunamis can travel upstream in coastal estuaries and rivers, with damaging
waves extending farther inland than the immediate coast. A tsunami can occur
during any season of the year and at any time, day or night.
are large ocean waves generated by major earthquakes beneath the ocean floor or
major landslides into the ocean. Tsunamis caused by nearby earthquakes may reach
the coast within minutes. When the waves enter shallow water, they may rise to
several feet or, in rare cases, tens of feet, striking the coast with
devastating force. People on the beach or in low coastal areas need to be aware
that a tsunami could arrive within minutes after a severe earthquake. The
tsunami danger period can continue for many hours after a major
Tsunamis also may be generated by very large earthquakes far
away in other areas of the ocean. Waves caused by these earthquakes travel at
hundreds of miles per hour, reaching the coast several hours after the
earthquake. The International Tsunami Warning System monitors ocean waves after
any Pacific earthquake with a magnitude greater than 6.5. If waves are detected,
warnings are issued to local authorities who can order the evacuation of
low-lying areas if necessary.
How can I
protect myself from a tsunami?
you are in a coastal community and feel the shaking of a strong earthquake, you
may have only minutes until a tsunami arrives. Do not wait
for an official warning. Instead,
let the strong shaking be your warning, and, after protecting yourself from
falling objects, quickly move away from the water and to higher ground. If the
surrounding area is flat, move inland. Once away from the water, listen to a
local radio or television station or NOAA Weather Radio for information from the
Tsunami Warning Centers about further action you should take.
Even if you do not
feel shaking, if you learn that an area has experienced a large earthquake that
could send a tsunami in your direction, listen to a local radio or television
station or NOAA Weather Radio for information from the Tsunami Warning Centers
about action you should take. Depending on the location of the earthquake, you
may have a number of hours in which to take appropriate
What is the
best source of information in a tsunami situation?
part of an international cooperative effort to save lives and protect property,
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service
operates two tsunami warning centers: the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning
Center (WC/ATWC) in Palmer, Alaska, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
(PTWC) in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. The WC/ATWC serves as the regional Tsunami Warning
Center for Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The
PTWC serves as the regional Tsunami Warning Center for Hawaii and as a
national/international warning center for tsunamis that pose a Pacific-wide
Some areas, such as Hawaii, have Civil Defense Sirens. Turn on your
radio or television to any station when the siren is sounded and listen for
emergency information and instructions. Maps of tsunami-inundation areas and
evacuation routes can be found in the front of local telephone books in the
Disaster Preparedness Info section.
Tsunami warnings are broadcast on
local radio and television stations and on NOAA Weather Radio. NOAA Weather
Radio is the prime alerting and critical information delivery system of the
National Weather Service (NWS). NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts warnings, watches,
forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day on more than 650 stations
in the 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands,
and the U.S. Pacific territories.
The NWS encourages people to buy a
weather radio equipped with the Specific Area Message Encoder (SAME) feature.
This feature automatically alerts you when important information is issued about
tsunamis or weather-related hazards for your area. Information on NOAA Weather
Radio is available from your local NWS office or at www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr.
the radio with you when you go to the beach and keep fresh batteries in it.
A Tsunami WARNING
a dangerous tsunami may have been generated and could be close to your area.
Warnings are issued when an earthquake is detected that meets the location and
magnitude criteria for the generation of a tsunami. The warning includes
predicted tsunami arrival times at selected coastal communities within the
geographic area defined by the maximum distance the tsunami could travel in a
a dangerous tsunami has not yet been verified but could exist and may be as
little as an hour away. A watch—issued along with a tsunami warning— predicts
additional tsunami arrival times for a geographic area defined by the distance
the tsunami could travel in more than a few hours.
The West Coast/Alaska
Tsunami Warning Center and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issue watches and
warnings to the media and to local, state, national, and international
officials. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts tsunami information directly to the
Local officials are responsible for formulating, disseminating
information about, and executing evacuation plans in case of a tsunami
|Is your community StormReady? To help
people prepare for the ravages of hazardous weather, the National Weather
Service has designed StormReady, a program aimed at arming America’s communities
with the communication and safety skills necessary to save lives and property.
More information is available at www.stormready.noaa.gov/.
your community Tsunami Ready? Tsunami Ready is a program that promotes tsunami
hazard readiness as an active collaboration among federal, state, and local
emergency management agencies; the public; and the National Weather Service
tsunami warning system. This collaboration supports better and more consistent
tsunami awareness and mitigation efforts among communities at risk. The main
goal is improvement of public safety during tsunami emergencies.
information is available at http://wcatwc.gov/tsunamiready/tready.htm.
Be Prepared for Tsunamis
Core Action Messages
• Determine your
• Prepare members of your household.
• Learn and practice
general preparedness, every household should create and practice a Family
Disaster Plan and assemble and maintain a Disaster Supplies Kit. In addition,
every household in coastal areas should take tsunami-specific precautions and
plan for and practice what to do in a tsunami situation.
|Be aware of
signs that can mean a tsunami may be approaching:
strong earthquake lasting 20 seconds or more near the coast.
noticeable rapid rise or fall in coastal waters.
If you are in an area at risk from tsunamis, you
• Find out if
your home, school, workplace, or other frequently visited locations are in
tsunami hazard areas.
• Know the
height of your street above sea level and the distance of your street from the
coast or other high-risk waters. Evacuation
orders may be based on these numbers. Also find out the height above sea level
and the distance from the coast of outbuildings that house animals, as well as
pastures or corrals.
evacuation routes from your home, school, workplace, or any other place you
could be where tsunamis present a risk. If
possible, pick areas 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level or go as far as two
miles (3 kilometers) inland, away from the coastline.
If you cannot get this high or far, go as high or far as you can. Every foot
inland or upward may make a difference. You should be able to reach your safe
location on foot within 15 minutes. After a disaster, roads may become
impassable or blocked. Be prepared to evacuate by foot if necessary. Footpaths
normally lead uphill and inland, while many roads parallel coastlines. Follow
posted tsunami evacuation routes; these will lead to safety. Local emergency
management officials can advise you on the best route to safety and likely
• If your
children’s school is in an identified inundation zone, find out what the school
evacuation plan is. Find
out if the plan requires you to pick your children up from school or from
another location. Telephone lines during a tsunami watch or warning may be
overloaded and routes to and from schools may be jammed.
• Practice your
evacuation routes. Familiarity
may save your life. Be able to follow your escape route at night and during
inclement weather. Practicing your plan makes the appropriate response more of a
reaction, requiring less thinking during an actual emergency
• Use a NOAA
Weather Radio or stay tuned to a local radio or television station to keep
informed of local watches and warnings.
• Talk to your
insurance agent. Homeowners'
policies do not cover flooding from a tsunami. Ask about the National Flood
Insurance Program (NFIP) (www.fema.gov/nfip).
NFIP covers tsunami damage, but your community must participate in the
tsunamis with your family. Everyone
should know what to do in a tsunami situation. Discussing tsunamis ahead of time
will help reduce fear and save precious time in an emergency. Review flood
safety and preparedness measures with your family. If you are
visiting an area at risk from tsunamis, check with the hotel, motel, or
campground operators for tsunami evacuation information and
find out what the warning system is for tsunamis. It is important to know
designated escape routes before a warning is issued.
CORE ACTION MESSAGE
• Actively protect your
If you are at risk from tsunamis, you
• Avoid building
or living in buildings within several hundred feet of the coastline.
areas are more likely to experience damage from tsunamis, strong winds, or
coastal storms. For more information, check out the Institute for Business and
Home Safety at www.ibhs.org.
• Make a list of
items to bring inside in the event of a tsunami. A
list will help you remember anything that can be swept away by tsunami
coastal homes. Most
tsunami waves are less than 10 feet (3 meters). Elevating your house will help
reduce damage to your property from most tsunamis.
precautions to prevent flooding. (See
and Flash Floods”)
• Have an
engineer check your home and advise about ways to make it more resistant to
tsunami water. There
may be ways to divert waves away from your property. Improperly built walls
could make your situation worse. Consult with a professional for
any outbuildings, pastures, or corrals are protected in the same way as your
installing or changing fence lines, consider placing them in such a way that
your animals are able to move to higher ground in the event of a tsunami.
to Do if You Feel a Strong Coastal
CORE ACTION MESSAGE
• Drop, cover, and hold on; then
climb to higher ground.
If you feel an
earthquake that lasts 20 seconds or longer when you are in a coastal area, you
• Drop, cover,
and hold on. You
should first protect yourself from the earthquake. (See “Earthquakes”)
• When the
shaking stops, gather members of your household and move quickly to higher
ground away from the coast. A
tsunami may be coming within minutes.
• Avoid downed
power lines and stay away from buildings and bridges from
which heavy objects might fall during an aftershock.
What to Do When a
Tsunami Watch Is Issued
| CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Stay informed.
• Be ready
• Use a NOAA
Weather Radio or stay tuned to a Coast Guard emergency frequency station, or a
local radio or television station for updated emergency information.
tsunami detection equipment is located at the coast. Seismic action may be the
only advance warning before a tsunami approaches the
• Check your
supplies may need to be replaced or restocked.
household members and review evacuation plans.
Make sure everyone knows there are a potential threat and the best way to safer
• If any members
of your household have special evacuation needs (small children, elderly people,
or people with disabilities) consider evacuating
• If time
permits, secure unanchored objects around your home or business.
waves can sweep away loose objects. Securing these items or moving them inside
will reduce potential loss or damage.
• Be ready to
prepared will help you to move more quickly if a tsunami warning is
• Bring your
companion animals indoors and maintain direct control of them.
sure that your pet disaster kit is ready to go in case you need to
• Consider a
precautionary evacuation of your animals, especially
any large or numerous animals. Waiting until the last minute could be fatal for
them and dangerous for you. Where possible, move livestock to higher ground. If
you are using a horse or other
trailer to evacuate your animals, move early rather than wait until it may be
too late to maneuver a trailer through slow traffic.
What to Do When a
Tsunami Warning Is Issued
| CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Stay informed.
• Climb to
• Use a NOAA
Weather Radio or stay tuned to a Coast Guard emergency frequency station,
or a local radio or television station for updated emergency information.
instructions issued by local authorities. Recommended
evacuation routes may be different from the one you planned, or you may be
advised to climb higher. Remember, authorities will issue a warning only if they
believe there is a real threat from tsunami.
you are in a tsunami risk area, do the following:
-If you hear an
official tsunami warning or detect signs of a tsunami, evacuate at
A tsunami warning is issued when authorities are certain that a tsunami threat
exists, and there may be little time to get out.
Disaster Supplies Kit. Having
supplies will make you more comfortable during the
-Get to higher
ground as far inland as possible. Officials
cannot reliably predict either the height or local effects of tsunamis. Watching
a tsunami from the beach or cliffs could put you in grave danger. If you can see
the wave, you are too close to escape it.
only after local officials tell you it is safe. A
tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that
after one wave the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first
one. In several cases, people survived the first wave and returned to homes and
businesses only to be trapped and killed by later, sometimes larger, waves in
• If you
evacuate, take your animals with you. If
it is not safe for you, it is not safe for your animals.
|If you cannot escape a
wave, climb onto a roof or up a tree, or grab a floating object and hang on
until help arrives. Some
people have survived tsunami waves by using these last-resort
What to Do After a
| CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Stay informed.
• Take care of yourself and help others.
• Watch for
tsunami, you should:
• Continue using
a NOAA Weather Radio or staying tuned to a Coast Guard emergency frequency
station or a local radio or television station for updated emergency
tsunami may have damaged roads, bridges, or other places
that may be unsafe.
• Check yourself
for injuries and get first aid if necessary before helping injured or trapped
• If someone
needs to be rescued, call professionals with the right equipment to help.
people have been killed or injured trying to rescue others in flooded
• Help people
who require special assistance—infants,
elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need
additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the
people who care for them.
• Avoid disaster
presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations and put you at
further risk from the residual effects of floods, such as contaminated water,
crumbled roads, landslides, mudflows, and other hazards.
• Use the
telephone only for emergency calls. Telephone
lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear
for emergency calls to get through.
• Stay out of a
building if water remains around it. Tsunami
water, like floodwater, can undermine foundations, causing buildings to sink,
floors to crack, or walls to collapse.
re-entering buildings or homes, use extreme caution. Tsunami-driven
floodwater may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Carefully watch
every step you take.
• Wear long
pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. Sturdy
shoes protect against injuries or cut feet.
battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings.
lighting is the safest and easiest to use. DO NOT USE
• Examine walls,
floors, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in
danger of collapsing.
foundations for cracks or other damage. Cracks
and damage to a foundation can render a building
• Look for fire
may be broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, or submerged
furnaces or electrical appliances. Flammable or explosive materials may have
come from upstream. Fire is the most frequent hazard following
• Check for gas
you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone
outside quickly. Turn off the gas using the outside main valve if you can, and
call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any
reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
• Look for
electrical system damage. If
you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation,
turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to
step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician
first for advice. Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being
returned to service.
• Check for
damage to sewage and water lines. If
you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a
plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using
water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by
melting ice cubes that were made before the tsunami hit. Turn off the main water
valve before draining water from these sources. Use tap water
only if local health officials advise it is safe. (See
and Water Safety During/Post Disaster”)
• Watch out for
wild animals, especially
poisonous snakes, that may have come into buildings with the water. Use a stick
to poke through debris. Tsunami floodwater flushes
and animals out of their homes.
• Watch for
loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings that could
• Take pictures
of the damage, both
of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
• Open the
windows and doors to help dry the building.
• Shovel mud
before it solidifies.
• Check food
food that has come in contact with floodwater may be contaminated and should be
thrown out. (See “Food
and Water Safety During/Post Disaster”)
the earthquake was very large (magnitude 8 to 9+ on the Richter scale) and
located nearby. Some aftershocks could be as large as magnitude 7+ and capable
of generating another tsunami. The number of aftershocks will decrease over the
course of several days, weeks, or months depending on how large the main shock
• Watch your
animals closely. Keep
all your animals under your direct control. Hazardous materials abound in
flooded areas. Your pets may be able to escape from your home or through a
broken fence. Pets may become disoriented, particularly because flooding usually
affects scent markers that normally allow them to find their homes. The behavior
of pets may change dramatically after any disruption, becoming aggressive or
defensive, so be aware of their well-being and take measures to protect them
from hazards, including displaced wild animals, and to ensure the safety of
other people and animals.
Community Education Ideas
your community is at risk, build tsunami evacuation routes and publicize their
locations. Post signs directing people to higher ground away from the
land use in tsunami hazard areas so no new critical facilities, such as
hospitals and police stations; high-occupancy buildings, such as auditoriums or
schools; or petroleum-storage tank farms are built where there is a tsunami
hazard. Consider relocating existing critical facilities outside the tsunami
hazard area when opportunities arise, or at least explore ways to reinforce
facilities and structures, such as critical bridges needed for evacuation.
Tsunami damage can be minimized through land use planning, preparation, and
your local newspaper or radio or television station to:
-Do a series on
the dangers of tsunamis and floods.
-Do a story featuring interviews with
local officials about land use management and building codes in
-Highlight the importance of staying informed about local
-Run public service ads about how to protect lives and
property in a tsunami.
Help the reporters to localize the information by
providing them with the local emergency telephone number for the fire, police,
and emergency medical services departments (usually 9-1-1) and emergency numbers
for the local utilities and hospitals. Also provide the business telephone
numbers for the local emergency management office, local American Red Cross
chapter, and state geological survey or department of natural
with officials of the local fire, police, and emergency medical services
departments; utilities; hospitals; emergency management office; and American Red
Cross chapter to prepare and disseminate guidelines for people with mobility
impairments about what to do if they have to evacuate.
inform your community about local public warning systems.
local officials and insurance companies about the types of insurance that cover
flood-related losses. Include information on the economic effects of
are giant walls of water.
normally have the appearance of a fast-rising and fast-receding flood. They can
be similar to a tide cycle occurring over 10 to 60 minutes instead of 12 hours.
Occasionally, tsunamis can form walls of water, known as tsunami bores, when the
waves are high enough and the shoreline configuration is
tsunami is a single wave.
tsunami is a series of waves. Often the initial wave is not the largest. The
largest wave may occur several hours after the initial activity starts at a
coastal location. There may also be more than one series of tsunami waves if a
very large earthquake triggers local landslides. In 1964, the town of Seward,
Alaska, was devastated first by local tsunamis caused by submarine landslides
resulting from the earthquake and then by the earthquake’s main tsunami. The
local tsunamis began even as people were still experiencing the shaking. The
main tsunami, triggered at the site of the earthquake, did not arrive for
tsunami is the same thing as a tidal wave.
Tidal waves are regular ocean waves, and are caused by the tides. These waves
are caused by the interaction of the pull of the moon’s gravity on the earth. A
“tidal wave” is a term used in common folklore to mean the same thing as a
tsunami, but is not the same thing.
should move to the protection of a bay or harbor during a
are often most destructive in bays and harbors, not just because of the waves
but because of the violent currents they generate in local waterways. Tsunamis
are least destructive in deep, open ocean waters.
For information pertaining to emergency planning and response in your
own state, please see our state pages:
Hampshire -- New
Jersey -- New
Mexico -- New York
Carolina -- North
Dakota -- Ohio
Island -- South
Carolina -- South
Dakota -- Tennessee
Virginia -- Wisconsin
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