Tsunami Preparedness

Many military installations are located on or near a coastline. While the beauty of sand and sea may seem idyllic, families who live in coastal areas should be prepared for the possibility of a tsunami. Tsunamis are a series of ocean waves that result from underwater activity, such as an earthquake, landslide or volcanic eruption. Although tsunami waves vary in size, they may be as high as 32 feet, and they often arrive with little advance warning. For this reason, it is especially important to be prepared in case a tsunami strikes.

Getting ready for a tsunami

Like in any emergency, planning is critical to survival. This means knowing the dangers of the threat, having a family evacuation plan and preparing for basic needs, such as food, water and shelter. When you move to a new area, it's a good idea to find out what disasters you might encounter there and how to prepare for them. Involve your children in the planning so they will know what to do whenever disaster strikes. Remember, the family may not be in one place when a disaster occurs, and a disaster may occur at any time, night or day. Start your planning by visiting Being Prepared for an Emergency as a Military Family.

Preparations specific to tsunami threats include:

  • Know emergency warning terms. Just as in many weather-related announcements, a tsunami "warning" is issued when the threat is imminent or expected. Action to protect yourself and your belongings should be taken immediately. A "watch" is issued when the threat is possible and the public should prepare to take action. Conditions may change and advisories may be upgraded; therefore, it's important to have a battery-operated radio, which will allow you to stay up to date with alerts. Tsunami warnings may not allow much time for evacuation, so heed them immediately.
  • Know where you are. Ahead of time, learn how high your street is above sea level and the distance between your street and the ocean. The local government may use these numbers in evacuation orders. The areas of greatest risk are located less than 25 feet above sea level and within one mile of the shoreline.
  • Know where you'll go. Have a safe location to evacuate to that is within a 15 minute walk. Ideally, it should be 100 feet above sea level or two miles inland, away from the coastline. Practice so that your family can accomplish an evacuation at night or during inclement weather. As part of your family communication plan, notify relatives who live outside of the area where you intend to go.
  • Know school and work evacuation plans. Will you pick up your children from school, or will they be relocated to another location? Where will other family members go to evacuate? As you plan to pick up your family members, be aware that the confusion caused by a disaster often jams phone lines and roads, making it difficult for family members to connect.

When the alarm sounds, what should you do?

This is where your preparation pays off. When you hear an alarm, take action fast. If you are near the shore, get your family and pets to higher ground immediately. Here are a few safety tips from Ready.gov:

  • Get to high ground. If your original evacuation plan is not possible, -- perhaps you are not at the location you planned -- you will still need to get at least 100 feet above sea level or as far as two miles inland. If you cannot get this high or far, go as high or as far as you can. Every foot inland or upward may make a difference.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the beach to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it. Caution: if there is a noticeable drop in the water level at the shoreline, this is a warning that a tsunami is coming, and it should be heeded. You should move away immediately!
  • Save your family. Don't be concerned about your possessions, but grab your emergency kit, which you have prepared and stored in a handy spot.

Once you are safe, stay put until authorities give instructions to return home. Tsunamis are a series of waves, and the worst one may not have hit the shore yet.

Dangers in the Aftermath

There still may be considerable danger after a tsunami has come ashore. During this time, emergency workers are trying to rescue people, help the injured and begin to repair damage. You can help, too, by following these tips:

  • Beware of water damage. Assume structures that have experienced water damage are unsound. Protect yourself from debris by wearing good shoes and protective clothing.
  • Alert the authorities. Get professional help if someone is trapped in debris. The rescue workers' expertise and equipment is best for rescuing those trapped or injured by the tsunami as well as preventing or anticipating unintended endangerment.
  • Use your phone for emergencies only. This helps to keep the phone system available for those who truly need it.

Tsunamis may not come to mind as a threat to many people, but they can be deadly and should be recognized as a potential hazard by those in coastal regions. Military OneSource offers guidance for military families who are preparing for tsunamis and other disasters. Be prepared; be safe!


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