County Readies for Alert System Test

The importance of earthquake and tsunami preparedness was emphasized to Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors as the county prepares for this week’s test of its Emergency Alert System.

At their March 16 meeting, supervisors declared March 20 to March 26 as Tsunami Preparedness Week in Humboldt. The resolution on it states that 39 tsunamis have been recorded on the North Coast since 1933 and that 11 residents of Del Norte County were killed by the tsunami generated by the 1964 Alaska earthquake.

More recently, one Del Norte resident was killed when the 2011 earthquake in Japan caused a tsunami.

Underwater landslides and tsunamis created by offshore quakes can occur at any time and with little warning, according to the resolution.

Dorie Lanni, the county’s emergency services manager, said one focus of the upcoming preparedness week will be to inform residents of tsunami risks and how to recognize them.

“Our educational emphasis this year is the natural warning system — which is strong ground shaking in Humboldt County,” she said. “We’re really trying to convey to the public that that strong ground shaking lasting 20 seconds or longer is our warning to evacuate from tsunami zones and a distant source tsunami would take a little bit longer to get here, which would give us an opportunity to warn the public and do evacuations.”

A tsunami generated from a local earthquake would leave no time for that. “So it’s really important that we convey to the public that a strong earthquake means evacuate tsunami zones and stay out until the official warning is cancelled,” Lanni said.

Also during the week, the county will test its Emergency Alert System using an actual live alert code. The county was the first in the nation to test live codes when it began the practice several years ago. The test will be broadcast on NOAA weather radio and local TV and radio stations on Wednesday, March 23 at 11 a.m.

Residents can participate in monitoring the test on their cell phones and email inboxes by registering for emergency notifications on the county website. Tsunami sirens will also be activated.

Lanni said last year’s public mass notification system test was “not a great success” and the system has since been upgraded and will be further improved in the coming months.

Lori Dengler of Humboldt State University’s geology department said preparing for earthquakes and tsunamis is a concept that can be eclipsed by other, more immediate matters — until disaster strikes.

“Right now, fortunately, you don’t have to deal with an earthquake and tsunami aftermath — that’s not on your plate right now,” she told supervisors. “But I just got back from Japan and five years ago, the great earthquake and tsunami irrevocably changed life, particularly in northern Japan.”

She added, “And in those few hours, after the ground shaking and as the tsunami swept over communities, all those other things suddenly were swept away as well … and an issue that was very low priority suddenly overwhelmed everything.”

Dengler said preparedness is an immediate need. “We really need to do everything in our power now to make sure that we reduce the impacts,” she continued.

Linda Nellist, chair of the Humboldt Community Emergency Response Teams coalition, said teams of residents have been trained in basic disaster response in several of Humboldt’s communities.

A team of local agencies has put together a new edition of Living on Shaky Ground, a guide to preparing for earthquakes and tsunamis. An online version of Living on Shaky Ground can be accessed via the Humboldt State University Geology Department website.