When an earthquake off the California coast triggered a tsunami warning on June 14, an alert system in this coastal city was never activated...
OCEAN SHORES, Wash. — When an earthquake off the California coast triggered a tsunami warning on June 14, an alert system in this coastal city was never activated because a faulty phone line failed to get the message to several coastal areas.
Instead of a siren and a recorded message telling residents to evacuate, the All-Hazard Alert Broadcasting (AHAB) system located on this beach stood silent.
“We generated the warning from Camp Murray within two minutes,” Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, director of the state’s emergency management division, said today. “But it was that mechanical system in the land line that resulted in that warning not being retransmitted to stations in the Olympic Peninsula.”
While a tsunami never materialized, the warning showed the glitches in the state system, something officials say was a wake-up call for the state’s emergency preparedness network.
Gov. Christine Gregoire today announced a plan to ensure that coastal residents have enough time to get to higher ground in case an earthquake triggers a potentially deadly wave.
“We hope we will never have to use this system,” she said, speaking at the Shilo Inn Suites Ocean Front Hotel. “But we must be prepared.”
Gregoire said much of the work will be done in coordination with federal plans for tsunami preparedness, but she also said that she will seek federal funding and money from the state Legislature next year to install additional AHAB systems along the coast. Lowenberg said while two more structures are already being installed, an additional 90 are required for full coastal protection.
Other improvements Gregoire wants include:
—Asking the federal government for additional tsunami monitoring buoys to help monitor for tsunamis off the coast of Washington, and working with Oregon and California to ensure additional buoys are placed along the west coast.
—A coordinated response among all levels of government, including tribal governments, ensuring what Gregoire calls “one system in one state with one message.”
—An improved public education campaign.
—Improved evacuation routes, including access to private roads on higher ground.
—Better building standards, something lawmakers say they will address in legislation in the 2006 legislative session.
Lowenberg said several improvements have already been made since the June warning, including ensuring there are additional backup phone circuits to relay warnings in case one malfunctions. Other backups include a new antenna installed at the National Weather Service office in Portland, Ore., and new equipment installed with the Coast Guard for better coverage.
Also, equipment for a remote on-air monitoring program was installed at the National Weather Service in Seattle and will be tested on Sept. 14. That system will transmit tsunami warnings to all alert transmitter sites.
Tsunamis are caused by undersea disturbances, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The destructive waves can reach coastlines thousands of miles away from the disturbance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site.
A 1964 earthquake in Alaska caused damage on coastlines as far south as Oregon and California, killing three Oregon campers.
A lack of good warning systems likely contributed to the destruction caused by the Dec. 26 tsunami, which killed more than 176,000 people in 11 countries around the Indian Ocean and left about 50,000 missing and hundreds of thousands homeless.