Q: I have heard City Hall is looking into tsunami preparation and will be adding tsunami evacuation route signs in the city. What is an actual tsunami? Is there an increased threat of a tsunami, or are we just getting better prepared?

A: The city of Santa Monica is not under any additional threat of a tsunami, but we are always preparing for any natural or man-made disaster.

A tsunami is a series of waves most commonly caused by an earthquake beneath the sea floor. Tsunami waves can reach heights of up to 50 feet along the coast, and the first surge of waves may not be the highest. A wave caused by a tsunami cannot be surfed because it has no face and is usually filled with debris.

The city of Santa Monica’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was established in April 2011 by our City Manager Rod Gould and is managed by SMPD’s Lt. Kenneth Semko, to protect the community from loss of life and property in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. Lt. Semko and his team’s objectives are to prepare residents, businesses, visitors, city employees, local organizations and others to respond to and recover from incidents and emergencies. The OEM will provide educational materials, training, speakers, planning guidance and other resources to make Santa Monica the most disaster resilient community in Southern California.

Coming in 2012, OEM will implement a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, which will provide people who live and work in Santa Monica with the skills and tools to assist others in their neighborhood or workplace when professional responders are not available to assist.

There are two ways to find out if a tsunami may be coming — a natural warning and an official warning. A natural warning is when you feel the ground shaking strongly for at least 20 seconds and may be accompanied by a loud roar of the ocean, or the water receding unusually far. In this case you should evacuate to higher ground immediately. In most cases you will receive several hours of warning prior to a tsunami event. Notifications will come from local media, television and radio, city public address systems and my favorite, SM Alerts.

By registering with the city of Santa Monica’s SM Alerts mass notification system you can receive emergency alerts from several platforms, including: landline telephone, cell phone, text message and e-mail. You can sign up for this free service by going to www.smalerts.net.

If you are in a tsunami inundation zone and need to evacuate, you should follow the tsunami evacuation route signs and evacuate east to at least Fourth Street.

During an emergency situation you want to be prepared, so begin to prepare now. Take the time to learn what the recommended tsunami evacuation routes are in your area and identify safety zones near you to decide on your primary and secondary evacuation routes. You should also assemble a small evacuation kit with essential documents, medications, a flashlight and other personal items that you would need to address any functional needs or disabilities you might have.

For more information on what you can do to prepare for tsunamis or other disasters visit the OEM website at www.smgov.net/oem.

Q: I read a press release about the SMPD’s increased focus on bad driving behavior and the press release provided information about cell phone use. If I am using my cell phone as my music player can I still get a cell phone ticket?

A: It is illegal for a person, regardless of age, to hold a cell phone in his/her hand and use it while on speaker phone or held to your ear (23123(a) of the California Vehicle Code). A person under the age 18 is not allowed to use a cell phone at all while driving, even if they are utilizing a hands free device. And no person shall read, write, or send any text based communication, such as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail (e-mail). Scrolling for a name or phone number in a cell phone or entering a phone number does not constitute texting, but as you will see below this could warrant a citation.

If you are using your cell phone as a music player you shall not utilize both earplugs. Pursuant to 27400(a) of the California Vehicle Code, a person operating a vehicle or a bicycle may not wear a headset covering or earplugs in both ears. So if you are utilizing your cellphone as a music player and it is not synched to your vehicle speakers you must only wear one earplug.

Even if you are only wearing one earplug, or your cell phone is synched to the vehicle speakers, you should only handle the cell phone when it is safe to do so. In the California Vehicle Code section for speeding, it states that no person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of the persons or property. The safe way for a person to look down at any music device, scroll through songs, or do anything that takes your eyes off the road is to pull over, stop, and do those things on the side of the road. Doing anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road could be a violation of the basic speed law of California and you could receive a citation.

In this age of multi-tasking, it is common for a person to attempt to do more than one thing at a time while driving. You must understand that you are already multi-tasking when you are driving; your mind and body are working simultaneously to drive your vehicle. You should not add another task on top of what you already need to do to drive safely. Besides utilizing your cell phone, some common tasks I have witnessed are:

• Reading a newspaper, a book, or a map.

• Personal grooming, such as hair grooming, shaving, or applying makeup.

• Attempting to light a cigarette, putting out a cigarette, or catching falling ashes from a cigarette.

• Working in your vehicle by taking notes from a phone call, utilizing your laptop to type or retrieve data.

Please do not distract yourself while driving. You are endangering the lives inside and outside of your vehicle. If you are observed driving while attempting to take on additional tasks besides driving you can receive a citation and be subject to fines and court fees. Remember, the SMPD is committed to making the streets and highways safe for all pedestrians, bicyclist and drivers, so do your part and pay attention to the road while driving.

This column was prepared by NRO Joseph Cortez (Beat 4: Montana Avenue to Interstate 10, 20th Street to Ocean Avenue, excluding Downtown). He can be reached at (424) 200-0684.

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