Fact sheet: California's Tsunami Preparation
The March 11, 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami struck the California coast 10 hours after Japanese earthquake caused massive devastation in that country. In Japan, 20,000 went missing or lost their lives. In California, one death occurred when a man drowned at the mouth of the Klamath River because he was in dangerous area. Strong currents, resulting from the tsunami, damaged 27 California harbors at an estimated cost of nearly $100 million. Governor Brown proclaimed a state emergency along the coast in 7 counties. President Obama declared a federal disaster for Del Norte, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties, where harbors in Crescent City, Santa Cruz, and Moss Landing were damaged in excess of $50 million.
California's 840-mile coast includes 20 coastal counties, 250 incorporated and unincorporated communities, and 120 state and county beaches. What are state and federal officials doing to prepare California for the next tsunami?
Lessons from Japan
Tsunami scientists in Japan admittedly underestimated the potential size of the March 11 tsunami and its impacts. Specialists world-wide are learning new information about the March 11 tsunami to help improve emergency response, land-use, and maritime planning.
In California, tsunami inundation maps – which consider potential worst-case scenarios -- have been completed for most low-lying populated areas along the coast. They are available at www.tsunami.ca.gov . New maps are being created for some previously unmapped areas, such as Catalina Island.
State agencies continue to evaluate the local-source tsunami threat, specifically the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which could affect Del Norte and Humboldt counties within minutes. California also is evaluating the usefulness of vertical evacuation in areas where no high ground or safe inland areas are accessible
Long-term issues of recovery and land-use planning
California is developing land-use tsunami hazard maps to help determine where critical facilities should be placed and to provide safe development of coastal lands. While emergency planners need to know the worst-case scenarios, as shown in the inundation maps for evacuation planning, the land-use planning maps are based on tsunami events that are more likely to occur in a shorter time, like the life–span of a structure. For example, the inundation maps for Orange County show the potential for a tsunami going a couple of miles inland in a worst-case scenario. However, any tsunami likely to occur in the next couple of hundred years may impact a much smaller area, maybe inundating the beach or a couple hundred feet inland. After all, people are not going to want to stop living or building on the California coast.
Meanwhile, recovery planning and the resiliency of communities/maritime facilities are being addressed through State Policy Work Groups.
Evacuation plans are in place or underway for virtually all communities along the coast (areas to evacuate, route planning, evacuation sites). State agencies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working on a more consistent response and evacuation guidance in California through the State Tsunami Steering Committee and various workshops and exercises. The state has started developing multiple evacuation scenario plans known as "playbooks" for smaller tsunami warning events (like the March 11 tsunami on the California coast) and tsunamis that provide little time to respond. Scenario-based exercises are regularly conducted up and down the coast, in a variety of jurisdictions to test evacuation and operations planning effectiveness. Each year, California conducts a tsunami warning communications test in the state's three northern counties. Plans are to eventually extend this state-wide.
Additionally, 3,200 tsunami warning signs have been purchased with a thousand more on order. These have been placed in 12 of the 20 counties along coastal California.
California has worked closely with NOAA to increase the number of coastal communities that have met criteria of being highly prepared enough to be recognized as TsunamiReady. That status is achieved through displaying warning signs; conducting required workshops and meetings; disseminating weather radios; and a variety of preparedness measures. California currently has 23 TsunamiReady communities, including the City of Los Angeles. The City and County of Santa Cruz should achieve TsunamiReady status soon.
The fatality in Del Norte County as a result of the 2011 Japan tsunami emphasized the importance of continuing to educate the public about the need to stay away from water on beaches and in harbors during a tsunami; without the existing state and local preparedness programs, we may have lost more people. Thousands of outreach materials have been provided to coastal jurisdictions so that they may educate their constituents about what individuals and families can do to understand their tsunami threat and further prepare themselves through planning. State officials have conducted additional education and outreach to the public during Tsunami Preparedness Week and throughout the year, and have increased outreach efforts to the Spanish-speaking community.
California also has created the award-winning myhazards.calema.ca.gov which allows residents to type in an address to determine whether they are in a tsunami hazard zone (and receive recommended actions to prepare).
The impacts of recent tsunamis have made it clear that boaters need to know if, when, and where to evacuate their vessels. California is producing in-harbor tsunami current hazard maps that will help with harbor and marina response planning, evacuation planning for boaters, and emergency response planning protocols for harbor patrols. The state also will create offshore safety zone maps that recommend when and where evacuating vessels to sea with advance warning of a tsunami.
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