Living on or visiting the coast can be a breathtaking experience for you and your family, and it is likely that staying near or on the beach will be a favorite activity. While there is much fun to be had, close proximity to coastal waters can quickly become dangerous, especially because of the threat of tsunamis. A tsunami is a massive wave that is the result of a significant underwater event.
This event could include a volcanic eruption, earthquake, or even a landslide. Tsunamis are rare, but they can occur, especially in the wake of another catastrophic geological event. So, if you live near the coast, or are visiting, it is crucial to know how to survive if you ever encounter one.
The best way to prepare for a tsunami is to have an evacuation plan, stay informed by listening to up-to-date coverage and being aware of any potential geologic activity in your area.
While tsunamis can be unpredictable, the events that can form one are easier to detect. So, with this knowledge and some additional steps, you can ensure that you and your family are prepared to protect yourselves from the effects of a tsunami. We invite you to read on for our tips for navigating the impact of a tsunami in your area.
Learn about Your Area’s Geologic History
Is your area at risk for any earthquakes? How close are you to an active volcano? The answers to these questions will allow you to understand the risk of a tsunami. If you are traveling to (or live in) an area that is known for seismic activity, then you will likely have a lot of resources at your disposal to protect yourself and your family.
Your city will probably already have established evacuation routes, and may also have designated places for shelter in the event a tsunami occurs.
Knowing about your area’s geologic history will also allow you to see patterns. For instance, are there certain times of the year where this event is more likely than others or is your area due to experience another earthquake within the next two years? Knowing this enables you to be on high alert when necessary. If you are traveling, this information may also help you to avoid a particular area if it is at potential risk for one of these events.
Find out as much as you can about the geologic history of your location, so you have an idea of when you may need to enact a disaster plan.
Discuss the Risk of a Tsunami with Family
It is crucial that your family understands the danger of a tsunami. Everyone may not be in the same place when one of these events occurs. Your children may be in school, while your significant other could be at work.
They need to be aware of the significance of a tsunami and what to look out for. So, share the geologic history of the area, and inform them of the standard connections between earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis.
Educating them on what to expect and how these events happen eases their fear and anxiety, while also giving them a leg up on how to handle the situation.
Use this time also to share universal flood best practices, and indicate that they should locate an area at a higher elevation to seek shelter. Empower them with tactics for how they should immediately respond to a tsunami situation.
Your goal is to help them understand what they should do and how they can survive if everyone is separated.
Before a tsunami situation occurs, you want to ensure you have the right communication tools to stay informed. You should purchase a hand-cranked and battery-operated radio to stay up-to-date on all tsunami and seismic-related events.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio provides national weather service updates 24 hours a day. The station can give you a warning regarding potentially catastrophic weather events.
Also, sign up for any local weather radio updates in your area. Local stations will offer instructions regarding evacuation, potential areas for shelter, and tips for further protection. So, be sure to have access to national and local radio weather stations as both serve significant roles during a disaster.
It also helps to understand the meaning behind the language used in a dangerous tsunami event. For example, you and your family should know the difference between a tsunami warning and a tsunami watch. Both will give you vital information about the next steps you should take:
- A tsunami warning indicates that a tsunami wave has likely been spotted and that it is close to your immediate area.
- A tsunami watch is when the existence of a tsunami has not yet been confirmed, but that it could exist within an hour of where you are currently located.
Knowing these terms is even more crucial if an earthquake or volcanic eruption has just occurred. Both will alert you to your proximity to danger, and if an evacuation is necessary.
Have an Evacuation Route
If you are in a tsunami hazard zone, then it is imperative that you designate a route for yourself and your family to evacuate your home. You need to select a path that takes you 100 feet above sea level and up to two miles away from the coastline.
However, these distances may be minimums. Check into routes that take you deeper inland as you need to be prepared if the tsunami causes more severe conditions to your immediate area.
You also need to develop an evacuation route that allows you to flee on foot. If an earthquake has occurred, roads may be blocked by trees, and some streets may already be impacted by flooding.
As a result, it may be impossible for you to reach a shelter by car. So, pick a route that allows you to enter a safe location in 15 minutes.
Be sure to practice your routes by car and on foot. Ensure that your family is with you each time so one of them can take the lead if you are unable to for whatever reason.
Also, it is a great idea to think ahead and set up evacuation routes from familiar places that your family frequents. This list could include schools, workplaces, and even grocery stores. You never know when a tsunami is going to occur, and it helps to be prepared by having multiple ways to escape the immediate area.
The key to a successful evacuation is to stay tuned to an emergency radio station. These up-to-date notifications will give you the information you need to decide which route to take.
You may find that one of your routes is closed, and you need to take another street. Already having multiple options gives you and your family the opportunity to bypass this obstacle. So, keep your radio tuned to the local weather and NOAA stations.
Build a Disaster Kit
If a tsunami is detected, you may only have minutes to gather your items and leave the area. Therefore, you need to have everything you need already prepared and located in an easy-to-find area. Whether your home is safe enough to stay put, or you need to leave the area, making a disaster kit ahead of time will increase your chances of survival. Here are the items you should include in a tsunami disaster kit:
- Family first-aid kit
- Multi-purpose tool
- Two gallons of water per each family member per day (plan for at least a week)
- Toiletries and hygiene items
- hand-cranked or battery operated radio
- Local maps
- Essential medications for all family members
- Contact information for close family and friends
- Personal documents stored in a ziplock bag (IDs, SSN, insurance information, birth certificates, deed information, medical history information, marriage certificates)
- Non-perishable food items
- Whistles (to locate one another if someone becomes separated)
- A change of clothes and shoes per person
- Rain gear
- Sleeping bags
- Any other materials that may be helpful for you and your family
If you and your family are evacuating, you may alter this list to accommodate for what you can carry or take with you in your vehicle. For example, you may only need one gallon of water per person if you are going to shelter that still has running water.
However, most of the materials above should be in your tsunami disaster kit whether you are planning to stay at home or evacuate. This kit should be kept in a place that is quick and easy to get to, so you and your family can grab it and immediately set-up or leave.
Prepare Your Home
From the moment you hear that seismic activity could be a possibility in your area, you should take the proper precautions to protect your home.
First, have a conversation with your insurance agent. Many homeowner policies do not cover home flood damage to a tsunami. So, be sure to talk with an agent about what your options are. They may know of some programs you can enroll in to financially protect your home.
Second, talk with an engineering professional about how you can better protect your home from flooding. For example, you may be directed to install foundation vents which allow the water to flow through the house instead of collecting within the walls.
The engineer could also suggest that you apply additional coatings and sealants to your walls to prevent water from leaking into your home. Work with them to see where you can “flood-proof” the exterior of your home.
Third, see how you can divert water away from your home. This method could be in the form of a physical barrier or through the type of soil used in your lawn. A more textured soil or clay material could redirect water toward a lower elevation that is away from your home.
You may not be able to make broad sweeping changes to your home, but take a moment to see what is possible. Some forethought and a few changes could ultimately save your home.
Plan Ahead for Vacations
Again, no one expects for anything horrible to happen on vacation. However, since coastal areas are popular tourist destinations, it is likely that a tsunami has a high chance of impacting out-of-town visitors.
We have discussed some ways to protect yourself while on vacation, but here are specific instructions and tips for preparing for a tsunami while on vacation:
- Find out if your hotel is in a tsunami hazard zone. If it is, make sure they have clear evacuation plans, and consult with them about the specifics of these plans.
- Ask all hotel staff how you will be informed of a tsunami event and evacuation instructions. You want to be sure you are made aware of what to expect.
- Practice the evacuation routes once you arrive at your location. You are at a disadvantage since you are not from this area. Ensure you know the streets used to get to shelter.
- Have copies of all essential documents. If a tsunami occurs, you want to make sure that you have the documentation needed to evacuate by plane or to seek assistance from an embassy.
- Always keep family and friends up-to-date. If a seismic event has happened, immediately let your emergency contacts know what is happening, and where you are going. If you are abroad, they may be able to provide helpful information for emergency personnel to locate you if necessary.
- Have a mini-emergency kit. You may not be able to carry all the items mentioned in the disaster kit entry above while on vacation, but it pays to see what you can have on you. Things like radios, first-aid kids, medications, clothing, non-perishable food items, and documents can easily be carried in a backpack.
Again, no one wants to entertain the idea of a horrible event happening while on vacation. However, unfortunately, catastrophic natural events do occur. This information can help you put together a plan of how to prepare and survive a tsunami while away from home.
A tsunami can have devastating effects on a coastal area. Within seconds, a once bustling city can be turned into a desolate area. However, while you cannot control mother nature, you can control how you prepare for and respond to it. Surviving a tsunami is possible when you take the time to create a plan of survival.
So, if you live in a coastal area or are planning to travel to one, think through the steps above. Take time to talk with your family about a plan to prepare for a tsunami. We hope that the tips above will provide you with the tools you need to get started.