Alaska, Announcements, City of Seward, Harbor News

Earthquake Preparedness

Destruction_from_the_1964_Earthquake By Heidi Zemach for SCN –

How many of us are truly prepared for the next big earthquake or tsunamis? The folks that deal regularly in earthquake and emergency preparedness are taking time to mark the 50th anniversary of the March 27th 1964 Earthquake in Alaska, with preparedness drills, education and commemorations.

At 10:15 this (Thursday) morning there will be a live test of the Alaska Tsunami Warning Sirens and emergency warning system. Later today, many businesses and local schools will practice diving under their desks or most solid areas and holding on.

Only a small audience of about a dozen or so attended an earthquake emergency preparedness presentation sponsored by the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service on Monday, March 17th, in the K.M. Rae Building, however.

Everything Seward had known was stripped away on that fateful Good Friday when the earth shook, oil tankers burst into flames along the waterfront, and waves pulled burning debris into the sea, said Willard Dunham. He was there to offer some lessons learned from experience in the ’64 earthquake. Lost that day was seven docks, five fish canneries, the cement plant, Standard Oil, many residential homes and downtown offices, and a great many good water-front jobs related to the shipping industry. The tsunami also took more than a dozen lives. Eighty longshoreman took jobs the union offered them Outside, but Dunham couldn’t bear to leave his town behind under the circumstances. ( See this Seward Quake Video: )
Some might think that Seward is better prepared now for an earthquake than it was in ’64. The state has enacted better building codes, resulting in more earthquake-capable buildings, said Dan Nelson who heads the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. The coastal Alaska Tsunami Warning System, strategically placed along Seward’s waterfront, is a great new improvement over 1964 days, and can help inform people on the type of emergency, and when to evacuate certain areas. But many things in Seward have not changed, or have even changed for the worse. The local population has increased, and is especially bloated during the three-month tourist season, yet there’s still only one road heading out of town, just like in 1964,  Nelson said. Seward now has a more open waterfront area, park and beachfront, and its industrial sector was moved of town, away from the residential areas. But the Seward Small Boat Harbor area is greatly expanded, with wall to wall waterfront hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions, all of which are vulnerable to tsunamis, especially those locally-generated landslide tsunamis that can happen immediately.

Even with the latest improvements to the tsunami warning sirens, which now allows them to be programmed separately and activated on a regional basis, rather than statewide, those who are at or anywhere near the harbor or waterfront should not wait for the sirens before taking immediate action when a violent earthquake next hits, Nelson said. If the ground starts to shake so hard it that it can knock you off your feet, and if it continues shaking for more than 15-20 seconds, those within a few city blocks of Resurrection Bay should race to higher ground immediately. The first of six or seven destructive submarine landslide tsunamis occurring beneath Resurrection Bay in ’64 arrived at the Seward waterfront in the first minute and a half, even while the ground was still shaking. Should they happen again, there might not our tsunami warning system, Nelson said.

(See the 1964 tsunami inundation zones plus the latest new run-up inundation zones over today’s Seward. waterfront: )

A new study, “Changes in population evacuation potential for tsunami hazards in Seward, Alaska, since the 1964 Good Friday earthquake,” (pub.October 2013), looks at post-disaster redevelopment within the Seward inundation areas, and uses pedestrian evacuation modeling for tsunami hazards. It examines how quickly people in Seward’s predicted inundation-map areas would have to leave in order waterfront areas to survive future tidal waves, and the speed at which people can move from various places and under various conditions. It concludes that evacuation travel times have increased due to the relocation and expansion of the port and harbor facilities, and that Seward’s population vulnerability to tsunamis has increased since ’64 as a result. It also finds that the majority of individuals threatened by the tsunamis expected today would be business employees, customers, and tourist populations, rather than residents in their own homes.
Most of those who live or work along the shoreline would have time to evacuate for distant tsunamis, or those generated far out at sea, said Nathan Wood, a research geographer at the U.S. Geological Survey, based in Portland, Oregon. But many people, especially those out on the docks, in commercial, industrial harbor areas, would probably not be able to escape before a local landslide tsunami wave arrived. In winter conditions the escape time would be even longer, leaving those folks more vulnerable when the presence of snow may constrain evacuations to roads, Wood said.


Tsunami Inundation maps of Seward. With permission of Alaska DNR .
Tsunami Inundation maps of Seward. With permission of Alaska DNR’s GGS Division.

division of geological and geophysical survey

(Below, Aerial photographs of downtown Seward. The top panel is before the 1964 earthquake. The middle panel shows the areas inundated by the 1964 tsunamis. Bottom panel is a recent photo and includes the predicted inundation for three different earthquake and landslide scenarios. These models are the foundation for community‐level tsunami planning. Note the development inside of the 1964 zone. Modified from Tsunami Inundation maps of Seward and Northern Resurrection Bay, Alaska by E.N. Suleimani, DJ Nicolsky, D.A. West, R.A. Combellick, and R. A. Hansen. Published by State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources division of geological and geophysical surveys 2010.  )

Former Seward Fire Chief Dave Squires presented an overview of the city’s emergency preparedness efforts. Local residents would need to assume leading roles in evacuating visitors who are downtown, and showing them where to go in the event of an earthquake, he said. This would be especially critical during an event such as the July 4th Mount Marathon Race, when thousands fill downtown Seward, or during the summer when the larger cruise ships with a couple thousand passengers are in port.
The City of Seward emergency officials had considered staging a community drill or simulation event downtown on the March 27th anniversary, or cooperating with the State of Alaska’s drill effort, which had 13 communities participating. But those plans were scrapped because the city had only recently realized that they would not have sufficient generation capabilities for their operations center, in the former library building, and because emergency officials would be busy managing the state’s tsunami drill on that day, said Seward City Manager James Hunt. City administration and council members said they hoped the community could have one later on, perhaps this summer.
All of us should be prepared to live off the grid, and survive without power for quite a while, Nelson said. Those who are dependent on technology should be aware that during the next big disaster their computers and cell phones probably won’t work, so they should get used to the idea of getting by without technology. It’s the good old ham radio operators who will be most effective in leading public communications, as they did 50 years ago, he said. The KPB has lots of modern communications equipment, generators and other disaster-ready equipment at hand to bring to affected areas after an earthquake.

The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough recommends that everyone is prepared to take care of themselves for at least seven days with food, water, clothing and fuel. That’s a little longer than the three days recommended for the rest of the nation. They recommend people make themselves emergency grab and go-kits for their place of business, go-kits for their vehicles, in case they are stranded, and larger seven-day emergency kits, kept at home with which to weather a quake’s aftermath. The basics should include water (one gallon per person per day) plus water-storage and purification; canned foods or things that don’t easily spoil such as freeze-dried fruit, crackers, and peanut butter; ready to eat meals, and other staples including soaps, extra tooth brushes, TP and a bucket with a lid to use as a toilet, knife and can opener, radio with batteries or solar powered, extra medications, feminine products, , blankets, extra clothing, bug spray, emergency tools and additional cooking and generation units, with fuel. The kits also should contain extra copies of ones’ critical documents, and you might want to set aside pet food, pet medication and vaccine records, along with your dog’s favorite chew toy and blanket.

Other practical ideas with which to be better prepared include attaching things like hot water tanks and residential heaters by cables or straps to ones’ wall or heavy beams, so they don’t become detached when the ground shakes, and not placing heavy items that could shift and fall during shaking over family beds and sofas.
People should also know how to shut off their home’s power supply, but they may not want to do so unless there is a leak, because it may be difficult to find someone from the gas company available to light it once it’s out.