Thursday, March 29, 2012

Head to higher ground: It's National Tsunami Awareness Week!

Did you know that it’s National Tsunami Awareness Week? A tsunami is one of those natural disasters that can strike with very little warning, so it’s important to know the signs that a tsunami is coming so that you can quickly get to safety.

First, the basics: A tsunami is a very large wave that is created when something like an earthquake or volcano eruption causes a sudden change in the ocean water level. These events can happen close to the shore, creating a tsunami that reaches the coast within minutes, or they can happen far away and travel more than 600 miles an hour to beaches on the other side of the ocean.

For far-away earthquakes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has created a system of tsunami warnings, watches and alerts that can help warn people along coastlines around the world of an impending tsunami. However, tsunamis are very unpredictable, and when an earthquake happens close to the coast, a tsunami could happen without warning. For these reasons, it’s important that everyone knows the signs of a tsunami:
  1. Feeling an earthquake while on or near the beach, especially if it is so strong that it knocks people over.
  2. Seeing the ocean water level suddenly get very low or very high.
  3. Hearing a loud roaring noise, like an airplane or a train, coming from the ocean.
If you experience any of these warning signs, you must head to higher ground immediately. The best place to go is an area at least 100 feet above sea level, or up to two miles in from the coast. It’s best to travel by foot, as driving could mean that you get stuck in traffic or block the road for emergency vehicles that may need to come through. If you live near a coast, it’s important to think about tsunamis in your family emergency plan, and be sure to pick meeting places and evacuation routes that are outside of a tsunami hazard zone.

Tsunamis are not only a concern for people who live near coastlines — anyone who travels to a coastal city for vacation or work should also have a plan. To learn more about tsunami preparedness, check out our Get Ready tsunami fact sheets in English (PDF), y tambien en Español (PDF).

For more tips on preparing for a tsunami, watch this great video from NOAA’s TsunamiReady program:

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