Alaska works on tsunami preparedness

Report: Alaska tsunami hazard comes from waves generated by local earthquakes

Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2005

ANCHORAGE - The state of Alaska wants people to be more aware of the dangers of tsunamis, particularly in vulnerable populated areas such as Seward, Kodiak, Homer and Sitka.

One way to do that is to teach young children about tsunami preparedness and what to do in a disaster, said R. Scott Simmons, state hazard mitigation officer.

"We target 5-year-old kids," Simmons said of the tsunami education campaigns. "They are young enough to learn and old enough to remember."

Simmons was one of several emergency management officials who spoke at a news conference Friday on the ways in which Alaska is working to be more prepared for giant seismic sea waves.

The state has been participating in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's five-state national tsunami hazard mitigation program.

State seismologist Roger Hansen is modeling tsunamis that could be generated by earthquakes. With an understanding of which areas are likely to be at most risk for flooding, communities can develop emergency response programs.

Modeling is just one step in creating a system to deal with tsunamis in Alaska.

A multilevel response plan is especially important to Alaska because the state's primary tsunami hazard comes from waves generated locally by earthquakes instead of tsunamis traveling long distances, Hansen said in a statement.

The Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami - the deadliest in the modern era - began with a powerful earthquake centered less than 100 miles from the Sumatra coast. The quake and subsequent tsunamis killed between 145,000 and 178,000 people in 11 countries and left tens of thousands more missing and feared dead.

Since then, countries around the world, including the United States, have been evaluating their tsunami preparedness and warning systems. Senators from Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state have introduced legislation to upgrade and modernize the U.S. warning system by mid-2007.

The bill would authorize up to $35 million a year for NOAA to upgrade tsunami detection and warning capabilities on the East and West coasts and Gulf of Mexico; expand tsunami research; and require NOAA to immediately repair malfunctioning tsunami-detection buoys.

In Alaska, the money would allow the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer to go to 24-hour staffing and add gauges to make tsunami detection more accurate.

Deep ocean buoys are less useful for Alaska warnings because a local wave would hit the state before the buoys could detect it, Hansen said.

In some coastal areas of the state, there are posted tsunami evacuation routes and warning sirens. As part of the preparedness program, the state is publishing some evacuation route maps.

The state is working on education campaigns and contacts with community leaders and emergency managers in a number of coastal towns, including Sand Point, Hydaburg, Pelican and Cordova.

Alaskans must rely on rapid warnings after earthquakes along with education and taking proper precautions to prepare themselves for potential tsunamis, Hansen said.

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