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Take Time Now To Prepare For That Unpredictable Tidal Wave

Editor’s note: The following article is written by Claudine Tomasa, a retired nurse who chairs Kailua Neighborhood Board’s public health, public safety and civil defense committee.

April is Tsunami Awareness Month in Hawaii, where citizens are encouraged to take steps to safeguard the lives of their families, friends and neighbors BEFORE a tsunami strikes. First of all, have a disaster-evacuation plan in place that includes how to contact relatives during a communication black-out, and assemble an emergency kit with five to seven days worth of food and fresh water.

Below are ways to prepare and tips on how to stay safe.

Evacuation maps

Be conscious of your environment. Tsunamis are not seasonal and may occur any time of the day – you may be at work or school, downtown or at Ala Moana Center when a tsunami is generated. Check the tsunami evacuation maps to see if your home, work place, or school is located within an evacuation zone. The maps are in the official Hawaiian Telcom phone book (yellow pages) and on these websites: honolulu.gov/dem (city Department of Emergency Management) or ptwc.weather.gov/ (Pacific Tsunami Warning Center).

Local and distant tsunamis, alert levels

If you are on the beach and feel the ground shaking, observe an unusual drop in sea level, or hear a roaring sound – this is a tsunami warning. Drop, cover and hold. When the shaking stops you immediately must head inland for higher ground. A local tsunami may have been generated and can strike within 30 minutes. There may be no time for an official warning.

A significant earthquake elsewhere in the Pacific basin may generate a distant tsunami, with its waves capable of reaching the Hawaiian Islands within four to 13 hours, depending where it originated. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) may issue a tsunami watch. Listen to the radio or TV for more updates or cancellations. Be prepared to evacuate.

When PTWC confirms a tsunami generation, a warning will be issued via the media and NOAA weather radio. Civil Defense agencies or warning points (police dispatch centers) will sound their sirens, at least three hours prior to the first wave’s arrival. Listen to the radio for evacuation instructions. Evacuate the coastline immediately.

Tsunami evacuation – if you must evacuate

Walk or drive to a safe area outside the evacuation zone or to the nearest city-designated refuge area. A list of refuge areas can be found on the city website (above) or call 723-8960.

During last year’s tsunami warning, the Kailua and Kaneohe district parks were opened for residents and visitors. Churches along Kailua Road also provided refuge in their parking lots – tsunami refuge areas only provide public restrooms and a place to park your car. Bring your emergency kit to the evacuation site. Do NOT use the parking lot at Castle Medical Center. The hospital will be preparing for any casualties and also must provide current patients with safe, quality care.

Use TheBus. During a disaster, city buses will automatically operate as evacuation shuttles to transport individuals and their pets to the nearest refuge area. Simply flag down TheBus on its adjusted route, and it will take you without charge.

Vertical evacuation in a steel and/or concrete building of six or more stories in height can be an option if there is no time to go inland to higher ground. Look for a structure away from the beach, and go to the third floor or above.

Listen to the radio or TV for the civil defense “All Clear” announcement that it is safe to return to the coastline. Stay out of the ocean for the next couple of days.

Educate yourself

Disaster preparedness is an individual responsibility. One way to make a difference is to enroll in the city’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes. Call Jeff Spencer at 723-8960 or via email jspencer1@honolulu.gov.