Be prepared

Why Talk About Tsunamis?
Plan for a Tsunami
How to Protect Your Property
Media and Community Education Ideas
What to Do if You Feel a Strong Coastal Earthquake
What to Do When a Tsunami WATCH Is Issued
What to Do When a Tsunami WARNING Is Issued
What to Do After a Tsunami

Why Talk About Tsunamis?

All tsunamis are potentially dangerous, even though they may not damage every coastline they strike. Damaging tsunamis are very rare. Our coastlines are vulnerable, but tsunamis are infrequent. Understand the hazard and learn how to protect yourself, but don't let the threat of tsunamis ruin your enjoyment of the beach.

Be familiar with the tsunami warning signs. A strong earthquake lasting 20 seconds or more near the coast may generate a tsunami. A noticeable rapid rise or fall in coastal waters is also a sign that a tsunami is approaching.

Tsunamis most frequently come onshore as a rapidly rising turbulent surge of water choked with debris. They are not V-shaped or rolling waves, and are not "surfable."

Tsunamis may be locally generated or from a distant source.

In 1957, a distant-source tsunami generated by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska struck Hawaii, 2,100 miles away. Hawaii experienced $5 million in damages from that tsunami.

Back to top

Plan for a Tsunami

Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Tsunami-specific planning should include the following:

  • Learn about tsunami risk in your community. Contact your local emergency management office or Red Cross chapter. Find out if your home, school, workplace or other frequently visited locations are in tsunami hazard areas. Know the height of your street above sea level and the distance of your street from the coast or other high-risk waters. Evacuation orders may be based on these numbers.

  • If you are visiting an area at risk from tsunamis, check with the hotel, motel, or campground operators for tsunami evacuation information and how you would be warned. It is important to know designated escape routes before a warning is issued.

If you are at risk from tsunamis, do the following:

  • Plan an evacuation route from your home, school, workplace, or any other place you'll be where tsunamis present a risk. If possible, pick an area 100 feet above sea level or go up to two miles inland, away from the coastline. If you can't get this high or far, go as high as you can. Every foot inland or upwards may make a difference. You should be able to reach your safe location on foot within 15 minutes. After a disaster, roads may become impassable or blocked. Be prepared to evacuate by foot if necessary. Footpaths normally lead uphill and inland, while many roads parallel coastlines. Follow posted tsunami evacuation routes; these will lead to safety. Local emergency management officials can help advise you as to the best route to safety and likely shelter locations.

  • Practice your evacuation route. Familiarity may save your life. Be able to follow your escape route at night and during inclement weather. Practicing your plan makes the appropriate response more of a reaction, requiring less thinking during an actual emergency situation.

  • Use a radio to keep informed of local watches and warnings.

  • Talk to your insurance agent. Homeowners' policies do not cover flooding from a tsunami. Ask about flood insurance.

  • Discuss tsunami with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing tsunamis ahead of time will help reduce fear and anxiety, and let everyone know how to respond. Review flood safety and preparedness measures with your family.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit
Please see the section "Disaster Supplies Kit" for general supplies kit information. Tsunami-specific supplies should include the following:
  • Evacuation Supplies Kit in an easy-to-carry contanier (backpack) near your door
  • Disaster Suplies Kit basics

Back to top

How to Protect Your Property

  • Avoid building or living in buildings within several hundred feet of the coastline. These areas are more likely to experience damage from tsunamis, strong winds, or coastal storms.

  • Make a list of items to bring inside in the event of a tsunami. A list will help you remember anything that can be swept away by tsunami waters.

  • Elevate coastal homes. Most tsunami waves are less than 10 feet. Elevating your house will help reduce damage to your property from most tsunamis.

  • Follow flood preparedness precautions. Tsunamis are large amounts of water that crash onto the coastline, creating floods.

  • Have an engineer check your home and advise about ways to make it more resistant to tsunami water. There may be ways to divert waves away from your property. Improperly built walls could make your situation worse. Consult with a professional for advice.

Back to top

Media and Community Education Ideas

  • If your community is at risk, build and publicize locations of tsunami evacuation routes. Post signs directing people to higher ground away from the coast.

  • Review land use in tsunami hazard areas so no critical facilities, such as hospitals and police stations; or high occupancy buildings, such as auditoriums or schools; or petroleum-storage tank farms are located where there is a tsunami hazard. Tsunami damage can be minimized through land use planning, preparation, and evacuation.

  • Publish a special section in your local newspaper with emergency information on tsunamis. Localize the information by printing the phone numbers of local emergency services offices, the American Red Cross chapter, and hospitals.

  • Periodically inform your community of local public warning systems.

  • Work with local emergency services and Red Cross officials to prepare special reports for people with mobility impairments on what to do if an evacuation is ordered, and develop plans to assist them with evacuation if necessary.

  • Interview local officials and insurance companies about the proper types of insurance to cover a flood-related loss. Include information on the economic effects of disaster.

Back to top

What to Do if You Feel a Coastal Earthquake

  • If you feel an earthquake that lasts 20 seconds or longer when you are on the coast:

    • Drop, cover, and hold on. You should first protect yourself from the earthquake.

      When the shaking stops, gather your family members and evacuate quickly. Leave everything else behind. A tsunami may be coming within minutes. Move quickly to higher ground away from the coast.

    • Be careful to avoid downed power lines and stay away from buildings and bridges from which heavy objects might fall during an aftershock.

Back to top

What to Do When a Tsunami WATCH Is Issued

  • Listen to a radio, Coast Guard emergency frequency station, or other reliable source for updated emergency information. As the energy of a tsunami is transferred through open water, it is not detectable. Seismic action may be the only advance warning before the tsunami approaches the coastline.

  • Check your Disaster Supplies Kit. Some supplies may need to be replaced or restocked.

  • Locate family members and review evacuation plans. Make sure everyone knows there is a potential threat and the best way to safer ground.

  • If you have special evacuation needs (small children, elderly people, or persons with disabilities), consider early evacuation. Evacuation may take longer, allow extra time.

  • If time permits, secure unanchored objects around your home or business. Tsunami waves can sweep away loose objects. Securing these items or moving them inside will reduce potential loss or damage.

  • Be ready to evacuate. Being prepared will help you to move more quickly if a tsunami warning is issued.

Back to top

What to Do When a Tsunami WARNING Is Issued

  • Listen to a radio, Coast Guard emergency frequency station, or other reliable source for updated emergency information. Authorities will issue a warning only if they believe there is a real threat from tsunami.

  • Follow instructions issued by local authorities. Recommended evacuation routes may be different from the one you use, or you may be advised to climb higher.

  • If you are in a tsunami risk area, do the following:

    • If you hear an official tsunami warning or detect signs of a tsunami, evacuate at once. A tsunami warning is issued when authorities are certain that a tsunami threat exists, and there may be little time to get out.

    • Take your Disaster Supplies Kit. Having supplies will make you more comfortable during the evacuation.

    • Get to higher ground as far inland as possible. Officials cannot reliably predict either the height or local effects of tsunamis. Watching a tsunami from the beach or cliffs could put you in grave danger. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it.

Return home only after local officials tell you it is safe. A tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that after one wave the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first one.

Back to top

What to Do After a Tsunami

  • Continue listening to the radio, Coast Guard emergency frequency station, or other reliable source for emergency information. The tsunami may have damaged roads, bridges, or other places that may be unsafe.

  • Help injured or trapped persons. Give first aid where appropriate. Call for help. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.

  • Help a neighbor who may require special assistance--infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.

  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.

  • Stay out of the building if waters remain around it. Tsunami waters, like flood waters, can undermine foundations, causing buildings to sink, floors to crack, or walls to collapse.

  • When re-entering buildings or homes, use extreme caution. Tsunami-driven flood waters may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.

    • Wear sturdy shoes. The most common injury following a disaster is cut feet.

    • Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings. Battery-powered lighting is the safest and easiest, preventing fire hazard for the user, occupants, and building.

    • Examine walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing.

    • Inspect foundations for cracks or other damage. Cracks and damage to a foundation can render a building uninhabitable.

    • Look for fire hazards. There may be broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces or electrical appliances. Flammable or explosive materials may come from upstream. Fire is the most frequent hazard following floods.

    • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

    • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice. Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service.

    • Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.

    • Use tap water if local health officials advise it is safe.

    • Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes, that may have come into buildings with the water. Use a stick to poke through debris. Tsunami flood waters flush snakes and animals out of their homes.

    • Watch for loose plaster, drywall and ceilings that could fall.

    • Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.

  • Open the windows and doors to help dry the building.

  • Shovel mud while it is still moist to give walls and floors an opportunity to dry.

  • Check food supplies. Any food that has come in contact with flood waters may be contaminated and should be thrown out.

Back to top

Produced by the National Disaster Education Coalition: American Red Cross, FEMA, IAEM, IBHS, NFPA, NWS, USDA/CSREES, and USGS. This information is in the public domain and is intended to be used and shared without copyright restrictions.From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages. Produced by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.

Related Links:

Back to top