Surviving a tsunami means planning now

Nestled along the ring of fire, with a larger coastline than any other state, Alaska has the greatest tsunami potential in the United States.

Elena Suleimani, a UAF research analyst, examined that potential as the underlying focus of a recent campus lecture on tsunami preparedness. As the guest speaker for the UAF Science for the Public Lecture Series, Suleimani discussed what it meant to be a tsunami-certified community, facts and data about tsunamis in Alaska and what people can do to face tsunamis when confronted with them.

A major disaster was the catalyst for the lecture, and it is one that is still remembered today.

“The presentation is a result of the anniversary of the ’64 quake that devastated Anchorage. We wanted to ensure responsibility for the younger generation, so that the kids don’t forget what happened,” Suleimani said.

The series was part of the ongoing efforts by local state and government agencies to bring emergency preparedness to the awareness of the public. Tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires and extreme snowstorms are just a few types of natural disasters Alaskans can face, and having people adequately prepared to survive them is the goal of these agencies. Examples of efforts range from lectures to open houses at the Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer each Friday.

The goal for each is the same – to educate the audience about emergency events that can happen in Alaska, and how best to respond.

The key to navigating disasters successfully is preparing what to do before, during and after they occur.

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Disasters can be devastating on more than just property, and the cost can be just as high.

“In addition to being physically prepared for catastrophic events, people should also be mentally prepared,” said John Farthing, Chief Contingency Planning and Force Readiness Officer of the US Coast Guard Marine Safety office in Anchorage.

“There are personal, psychological and emotional factors that exist following a disaster that can be just as disabling as any physical wound or trauma. When families and loved ones are involved the impacts and complexities involved are significantly increased. This element of dealing with an emergency is often overlooked,” he said.

His advice on coping is being personally prepared and patient. Help will come to you eventually, regardless of what happens, so being able to survive until help arrives can make the difference.

Jim Butchart, deputy director for emergency management at the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, agrees. Coping until help arrives or normalcy returns is made easier when you have the right tools.

“We at the division encourage everyone to have a family disaster plan and a seven day supply kit. The family disaster plan will give you and your family an outline of what to do during an emergency and the supply kit will make sure you have enough food, water and other essential items to last up to seven days with outside assistance,” he said.

When there is an emergency, Butchart says, the division takes an all-hazards approach to emergency planning, meaning they develop and use the same response plan for every emergency situation. He thinks the public can use the same method.

“You can use your family disaster plan for every type of situation you or your family could face, whether it be an earthquake, flooding incident, or terrorism event,” he said.

Not only is the approach all-inclusive, but the underlying principle is comprehensive insurance against what could go wrong, but hopefully doesn’t.

Kattaryna Stiles is the plans and policy manager at the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management. Alaskans are aware of the dangers of emergency events, but they don’t worry about them every day, she says. She thinks that is reasonable, because she said that proper emergency preparedness should not be a major difficulty. She promotes the view of seeing it as normal and necessary part of everyday life.

“Just like you maintenance your car, and insure your home, and see to these things on a semi-annual basis, you need to make sure you are prepared for events that might occur. You hope they won’t, but you take the steps just the same.”