Visitor Information Contact Us Site Map
Pacific Tsunami Museum header
By Delores Clark, Public Affairs Officer
National Weather Service Pacific Region
Hawaii is not the only state threatened by tsunamis.  While the west coast has not had one in recent years, people usually remember the tsunami generated by the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.  It was devastating - more than 115 people lost their lives in Alaska, Oregon, and California, and property damages were estimated in excess of $84 million.  The fact is, over 250 tsunamigenic events affecting the west coast have been documented since 1737.
Realizing the potential danger, in 1997 the Congress began authorizing $2.3million a year for a National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program operated under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Program is a partnership of federal agencies, state emergency management offices, and universities, and the States of Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California are active participants.
Hawaii used to be the only state that had tsunami inundation and evacuation maps.  But under the national program, Hawaii's expertise is being shared with the other states to produce maps for their coastlines.
Other components of the national program include upgrading and expanding seismic network systems that monitor earthquakes, deploying a network of deep ocean buoys to measure tsunami waves in the open ocean, and an aggressive public education program.  Progress is being made in all these areas.
There is a growing public interest in tsunamis.  To help spread the word about safety and preparedness, several of the states are celebrating Disaster Preparedness Month during April of each year.  As in Hawaii, public events and activities are designed to remind people about the risks of tsunamis.  Washington and Oregon are coordinating statewide school evacuation drills on the same day.  Oregon and California have developed tsunami curriculum for grades K-12.  Oregon has produced a tsunami education video for schools and communities.  West coast states are installing tsunami information and evacuation signs at strategic locations along their coastlines.  Unlike Hawaii where we have a statewide siren system, west coast states vary.  There is a project underway to improve the warning systems and make them more consistent.
The ultimate goal of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program is to help communities be prepared and to educate the public about basic tsunami safety.
According to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, here's what to do and what not to do:

Prepare in Advance:
black ball Look at the inundation maps in the white pages of the telephone book to determine if your home is in a tsunami evacuation zone.
black ball Develop a family emergency plan and decide where to go during an evacuation.  Find out where your nearest shelter is located.
black ball Prepare an emergency kit to last for at least 3 days. It should include medicines, non-perishable food items, a can opener, water, candles, matches, flashlight, radio, spare batteries, eyeglasses, personal hygiene items, clothing, copies of important papers such as insurance policies, family records, and property inventories, first aid kit, and bedding.
black ball Note that pets are not allowed in public shelters and alternate arrangements should be made.
When a Warning is Sounded:
black ball Listen to official Civil Defense instructions on TV, radio, and NOAA Weather Radio.
black ball A Tsunami Watch means a tsunami is possible and you should get prepared; a Tsunami Warning is issued when a tsunami is imminent and you should move to high ground immediately.
black ball If you are in an evacuation zone and have time, turn off the power, gas, and water before leaving to avoid potential fire and flood damage.
black ball Wait for the official all clear before returning to low-lying areas.
If the Ground Starts Shaking so Hard You Cannot Stand Up:
black ball Go to higher elevations immediately!  If you are in a low-lying area along the coast and feel a strong earthquake, it could generate a tsunami within minutes.   By whatever means possible - run, bike, drive - inland and uphill.  If you are inside or near a high rise building, go to a high floor.
What NOT to do:
black ball If the water is receding, do not go to the beach to watch.  A tsunami consists of a series of waves.  Often the first wave may not be the largest.   The danger can last for several hours after the arrival of the first wave.
black ball If you hear a loud roar, do not investigate; move away from the noise.  Tsunami waves can produce a very loud sound.
black ball Do not assume it is over until you hear the official word.  Tsunamis can travel up rivers and streams that lead to the ocean.

All materials © Copyright 1996-2007 Pacific Tsunami Museum Inc.
130 Kamehameha Ave Hilo, HI 96720 tel: 808-935-0926 FAX: 808-935-0842 email:
Last Revised November 2007