By Bryan Cheplic
Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs
According to the International Tsunami Information Center, Hawaii has used April as Tsunami Awareness Month, since the 1990s. Federal, state and local government agencies team together to sponsor awareness and outreach events aimed at sustaining awareness of Hawaii’s tsunami hazards.
In addition, the April 1, 1946 tsunami from the Aleutian islands surprised the state, which was without a tsunami warning system, killing 158 people.
As a result, the United States started the U.S. Seismic Sea Wave Warning System in 1949, which today is known as the Pacifi c Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC). The last tsunami that caused damage in Hawaii was the 2011 Great East Japan tsunami, which was observed statewide causing over $30 million in damage.
Since 1946, more than 220 people have died in Hawaii, including six on Oahu, due to tsunamis. Knowing if you’re in an evacuation zone, recognizing the natural warning signs, and understanding how you will be alerted can make a difference between life and death.
UNDERSTANDING TSUNAMI ALERTS
Tsunami alerts are issued in Hawaii by the PTWC. There are four levels of tsunami alerts: warning, advisory, watch, and information statement.
Each alert is tied to a specific action for you to take. When an alert is issued, stay tuned to local TV, radio, and official social media for more detailed or specific information.
When there is a tsunami warning, the public will be advised which evacuation zone to leave. Don’t wait to evacuate. It can take time to clear an evacuation zone, so leave as quickly and safely as possible.
“A tsunami warning can be as short as 30 minutes to several hours to arrival depending on the origin. The key is to ALWAYS be prepared. Have a plan and know your evacuation routes,” advises Warren Ferguson, emergency management officer for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
TSUNAMI PREPAREDNESS TIPS
- Find out if your home, school, workplace, or other frequently visited locations are in tsunami hazard areas along the coast.
- Know the height of your street above sea level and the distance of your street from the coast or other high-risk waters. (Local administration may put sign boards along the coast).
- Plan evacuation routes from your home, school, workplace, or any other place you could be where tsunamis present a risk.
- If your children's school is in an identified inundation zone, find out what the school evacuation plan is.
- Practice your evacuation routes.
- Use a weather radio or stay tuned to a local radio or TV station to keep informed of local watches and warnings.
- Discuss 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.
(Note: Published in the April 2021 Ho'okele magazine)