In a fundamental sense, tsunami planning is up to each of us. This was one of the key take-away messages from last week's Pacific Peril training conference at Rilea Armed Forces Training Center.
The threat of a major tsunami isn't some mere hypothetical apocalypse here on the North Coast. Three centuries have passed since the last great earthquake and tsunami here. Considering the cycle of such events revealed in the geological record, we are in the window for another - though, with luck, we may have as long as another seven centuries.
We are still learning how to go about preparing for a disaster in the face of so much uncertainty about when it will occur. But even if there is only a one-percent chance in each of the coming 70 decades, we are talking about an occurrence of such devastating potential that in behooves individuals and governments alike to take it very seriously.
There is a long and proud tradition of self-sufficiency here. This set of skills and attitudes will be tested to its limits after a major tsunami, with our relatively isolated communities cut off from outside help for days or weeks. Meanwhile, relief efforts will likely be directed more toward major population centers that will feel the effects of a subduction-zone earthquake even if they aren't hit by an associated tsunami.
Much that families should do to be prepared for other emergencies - such as major winter storms - also applies to tsunamis. A supply of potable water and easy-to-prepare food, a stockpile of prescription medications, a tent or tarp and blankets, flashlights, matches, a battery- powered radio - these are things we all should have around anyway. Similarly, a "go-bag" containing a basic survival kit is something we all should have in our cars or work places.
An agreed-upon meeting place for family members and an out-of-area contact phone number of a relative or friend who can relay messages are other forms of preparation we all should have in place.
As demonstrated by attendance at the Pacific Peril meeting, government agencies are making progress in preparing for a tsunami. At the same time, more effort is needed in keeping homes and vital infrastructure away from the worst danger zones and in protecting primary dunes that could diminish the force of a killer wave. New hotels and commercial buildings should incorporate vertical evacuation measures - designs that provide access to upper stories which offer a better chance to survive quakes and waves.
Last but not least, remember that if you feel strong shaking of the ground, get to high ground and away from the shoreline as quickly as possible.