Tsunami Reveals Holes in Education and Communication

I grew up under a tsunami warning siren in Hawaii, and we knew full well that if the siren went off we were to check the local news. The difference in Oregon is that the tsunami could be originating from as close as 50 miles off shore, which when traveling over 500 miles per hour is a matter of minutes before it arrives, making every minute count. Effective communication and pre-established education is paramount, particularly in these tourist-rich areas where many may need assistance in figuring out where to go and what to do.

While the tsunami warnings last Friday may seem like a test, it was real with a woman in Curry county needing rescue and the only fatality on the West Coast being a gentleman from Bend that recently moved to Northern California. Crescent City, California was the hardest hit area, only 20 miles from the Oregon border.

Overall the tsunami evacuations were widely successful, however any large scale operation like this reveals issues that can result in delays for the public being notified. A siren atop the Garibaldi city hall and another in Tillamook county failed to activate properly (hand-me-downs from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation), and Curry County’s reverse 911 system had a hardware glitch. The Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (which is responsible for warnings along the West Coast) ran into bandwidth issues with significant delays in getting alerts and other information out through their website. In many cases, direct conversations with Police and Firefighters were the first notifications individuals had with the evacuation. The existing system involves many tiers of communication (city, county, state, national, relief groups organizations like the Red Cross) that are now being analyzed for how responders and the public can be better educated for efficient communication.

Communications has been a priority for State Disaster Response officials and the Oregon Red Cross after a communications breakdown following the Klamath Falls earthquake in 1993, that shut down the established communications lines and led to a delay in response, and following the national events during September 2001. The Oregon Wireless Interoperability Network (OWIN) is currently a major investment that the State is finalizing in helping all levels communicate quickly and efficiently.

There are many things you can do to help prepare: Donate to your local Oregon Red Cross chapters to help fund disaster relief preparedness, become a Red Cross Volunteer, or review our Tsunami tips and share them with those around you.

Photo: KATU