Around the edges of the Pacific Ocean is an area of significant seismic and volcanic activity referred to as the Ring of Fire. Anyone within that Ring of Fire (Navy Region Northwest, Navy Region Japan, Joint Region Marianas, and Singapore) is at risk for tsunamis. Hawaii has a long history with tsunamis–50 tsunamis since the 1800s. Japan’s history is equally long, with nearly one a year (11) just between 2001 and 2013. While Guam has a lower risk of tsunami’s it has had three recorded tsunami’s large enough to do damage.
Emergency Manager, Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JBPHH), Dan DuBois notes,
“Tsunamis are difficult to see in the open ocean, only changing the surface level by 12 or 36 inches, but they are moving as fast as a commercial jet at 600 mph. When these waves reach land, they slow down and move upward causing the huge waves. They are not a single wave but a series of five to seven waves that build in amplitude. They can also cause what is known as a “wrap around effect,” so a wave impacting the north shore of an island wraps around the island and pushes large waves inland on the south facing shores.”
Mr. Dubois offers the following advice for tsunami preparation for Sailors and families living on the Hawaiian Islands, but there are important lessons for anyone living in the Ring of Fire.
What to Do Before Tsunami Sirens Sound
The actions you take in the face of a tsunami are a matter of life and death. Here are the things you need to do before the tsunami sirens sound the alert.
- Have a disaster plan.
- Know if your home is at risk for danger. Go to Hawaii State Civil Defense, Hawaii Emergency Management agency web site at www.scd.hawaii.gov. On the opening page of the website, go halfway down the page to find the tsunami evacuation zone mapping tool. You can put in your address and find out if your home is in a regular or extreme tsunami evacuation zone.
- Plan an evacuation route.
- Establish rally points for your family in case this happens when you are separated, i.e., mom and dad at work; children are in school or with friends.
- Know what your children’s school plan is and what actions the school expects parents to take. Do not blindly rush to the school.
- Make a communications plan and include an out-of-state contact. In many cases during an emergency, local calls are jammed, but you may be able to reach an out of state/off island number. Be prepared to text information.
- Prepare a disaster supply kit for your home and car. Click here for information on what to put in your disaster kit.
What to Do When Tsunami Sirens Sound
- Follow the instructions issued by authorities. JBPHH will put information on Facebook and on the Straight Talk line at 421-4000 and listen to a recorded message of emergency public information.
- Stay off the phone for nonemergency communications. Text if you need to contact family members.
- Move inland as soon as possible.
- You should be able to walk to safety.
- If you’re downtown, find a building more than six stories high and vertically evacuate. Most importantly, get away from the shoreline. You cannot surf a tsunami and even if the waves are small, powerful rip currents and undertows may be generated. Don’t make the job of first responders and rescue personnel harder by becoming a victim.
What to Do After the Tsunami
- Help injured or trapped people.
- Stay out of buildings if water remains around it. Tsunami waters can cause buildings to sink, floors to crack, or walls to collapse.
- When re-entering homes, use extreme caution.
- Check for gas leaks.
- Open windows and doors to help dry things out.
- Look for fire hazards.