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Earthquake and tsunami readiness depends on information and planning
Published: 01/11/2013 15:50:00
Updated: 01/18/2013 00:00:00

The earthquake that struck Southeast Alaska late last Friday night was felt around the region, including at Juneau's National Weather Service forecast office according to Warning Coordination Meteorologist Joel Curtis: "Here in the forecast office there are some pictures that are still sort of cockeyed that we've left, you know we haven't straightened them up yet, just to remind us of the event that we just had."

Thankfully the damage from last Friday's earthquake was limited; but the quake and following tsunami warnings acted as a good reminder to know what do when an earthquake strikes.

If a large quake hits nearby, there may not be time for a warning as locally generated tsunamis can move very quickly. "If you feel an earthquake that lasts 20 seconds, or you have difficulty standing up - and I mean 20 seconds in an earthquake is going to seem like an eternity - and you can't stand up, if you live near sea level or close to the coast; immediately go to higher ground. Do not wait for a warning, because we will not be able to get the warning out in time" says Curtis.

Alerts for most local emergencies, including tsunamis, are broadcast on National Weather Service Radio that can sound alarms on special receivers. "There are several brands of weather radios that do allow you the choice of what types of warnings that you'd want that to tone alert you; let's say in the middle of the night, or whenever we have to issue this particular warning" explains Curtis.

Tsunamis from earthquakes further away are a greater threat on the outer coast, compared to inland waters where islands provide a considerable degree of protection for areas like Juneau where a tsunami poses less risk. To make sure those in danger get the warning, messages are generally sent across the entire region.

Tom Mattice, Emergency Programs Manager for the City of Juneau, notes that because of the nature of broadcasting in Southeast Alaska, everybody often hears alerts as they go out across the region. "The National Weather Service is the hub for the Emergency Alert System, and that's located here in Juneau, Alaska, so Juneau, Alaska often times hears the same messages as Craig or Sitka on the outer coast. So the flavor is a little different for each community, so it's important to understand what a tsunami event means for your particular community." He adds that local knowledge is key: "If you're in one community it might be completely different than if you're in another community. So understanding the nature of that local event and how you're supposed to respond is critical."

By: Mikko Wilson -