The City of Santa Monica will test its emergency alert system on Wednesday, March 23 at 10:15 a.m. as part of National Tsunami Preparedness Week.
The alert system will go out on television and radio stations. Officials want residents to know the morning test is only a test and no one should panic or overwhelm the 9-1-1 operators with calls.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared Tsunami Preparedness Week in California on Monday. The governor’s proclamation commemorates the 52nd anniversary of an Alaskan earthquake and tsunami that killed 12 people and caused millions of dollars in damage. More recently, a significant tsunami wave hit the California coast in 2011 as a result of a 9.0 earthquake in Japan. That wave caused damage throughout the Pacific and was responsible for one death.
“These historic disasters, as well as other tsunami and earthquake events, should serve as reminders that we need always to be prepared,” said the proclamation. “As part of the effort to prepare for tsunamis, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, California Geological Survey, state and federal agencies, local agencies, businesses, educational institutions and community organizations have contributed to emergency preparedness efforts. These entities will commemorate National Tsunami Preparedness Week from March 20 through March 26, 2016, by conducting exercises, testing warning systems and response plans.”
Santa Monica has a tsunami preparedness plan, but officials said huge waves are a very low risk event for the City due to some defensive geography.
The city is protected by the Catalina Islands out to sea and shore bound defenses include wide beaches and high bluffs. A majority of the city’s construction is located above sea level, meaning potential flooding is limited to a very small section of town along the southern edge.
“Taking our worst case scenario and doubling it, the worst we would see is ankle deep water on the street,” said emergency services manager Lieutenant Robert Almada.
Almada said a tsunami event is often misunderstood to be a single large wave. In fact, it is a series of waves hitting one after the next. While that can be devastating for communities with construction adjacent to the water and built in low lying areas, what vulnerability Santa Monica had has been minimized over the years. In particular, upgrades to the Santa Monica Pier since heavy storms in the 1980’s have helped that structure significantly.
“Those pilings now for the most part are concrete and there are significant structural upgrades to the pier that make it more sound,” he said.
Santa Monica’s “impact zone” is primarily along the Pacific Coast High Way and beaches. Evacuation routes bring people inland about 5 blocks.
While the risk is low, Almada said residents of a coastal city should still be aware of the safety measures in place. Santa Monica has designated evacuation routes and signage in the impact zone directing anyone to higher ground.
Coastal residents should also learn the signs of an impending tsunami. Natural warnings include strong ground shaking, a loud ocean roar, or the water receding unusually far, exposing the sea floor.
Official warnings might come from television, radio, text or phone. The City of Santa Monica has a voluntary emergency alert system, SM Alerts, that provides emergency updates for a variety of causes by phone, email or text. Residents can sign up at www.smalerts.net.
OEM provides resources for residents for several potential disasters. Residents can visit www.smgov.net/departments/oem for more information on specific emergencies and general disaster preparedness information.