By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – The instant a 7.9 magnitude earthquake shook Amchitka Island in the Aleutians this June 23, an automated warning and information system clicked on and Seward got the news. At some 1,400 miles from the epicenter of the quake, the City of Seward received a “tsunami watch” notification from Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Harbormaster Mack Funk said he received notification via automated phone, text and e-mail. Both Funk and Fire Chief Eddie Athey got notifications just 25 minutes after the earthquake. No wave struck and no one reported damage, but the notification system worked.
A tsunami watch informs officials of an event that could cause a tsunami but, lacks “confirmation that a destructive tsunami is on the way” according to NOAA. NOAA maintains automated buoys that monitor waves and other hydrographic features. PTWC never upgraded the local watch to an advisory or worse, to a warning. In the event of a detected tsunami headed toward Resurrection Bay, the City of Seward would receive an official tsunami warning, meaning “conditions serious enough to issue immediate concern” according to PTWC.
The City of Seward has a published emergency operations plan. It regularly tests its warning sirens and public address systems. Upon receipt of a tsunami warning, the City of Seward would activate the plan, which includes confirming that a destructive wave will likely hit home. Depending on amount of time before expected arrival of the tsunami, the plan specifies actions by various city officials. With 30 minutes warning, sirens sound, emergency crews move to safe areas and public broadcasts commence. Evacuations occur, including boat evacuations from the harbor and waterfront.
Individuals can also subscribe to automatic notification through several internet-related platforms. For very local events that generate tsunamis, official warning may not come. NOAA’s website suggests that quaking of the earth and odd behavior of the shore and creek mouths may provide the only warning.