tsunami Photo by: U.S. Geological Survey The March 27, 1964 Alaskan earthquake generated a strong tsunami which drove this plank through a tire and killed 13 people along the coast of California.

Prepping for the Big Wave

New tsunami map shows high-risk areas of the county

By Chris ONeal 04/03/2014

To see the Tsunami Inundation Map, click here.  

Fifty years ago on March 27, 1964, North America suffered its largest earthquake on record. A magnitude 9.2 earthquake rocked the earth 78 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska, practically destroying the city along with other communities along the coast.

After the quake and its many aftershocks — several registering 6.2 or higher on the Richter scale — a total of 139 lives were lost, but surprisingly only 15 as a direct result of the quake itself. The real toll came as a result of two tsunamis generated by the quake, and not just in Alaska — 13 people along the California coast were killed as well.

Last week also marked Tsunami Preparedness Week across the country, and with it came a new report detailing the areas of Ventura County that would become inundated should the worst-case-scenario tsunami form due to an earthquake, landslide or otherwise.

The report produced by the California Emergency Management Agency, California Geological Survey and the University of Southern California shows that from the city of Ventura to Port Hueneme, massive damage will be wrought — specifically showing that the Ventura County Fairgrounds, the Pierpont community, Ventura’s and Oxnard’s harbors and the communities along Hollywood Beach in Oxnard would be inundated, among many other communities and businesses, including the Naval Base.

According to Dale Carnathan, program administrator for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services, there have been nine recorded tsunamis since 1812 that have caused damage in Ventura County.

Carnathan assisted in the creation of the Tsunami Inundation Map.

“What we know over history is that tsunamis generated by both types of events have affected Ventura County,” said Carnathan, referring to landslides and up-thrust earthquakes during which the earth moves up and down at the fault rather than side to side.

In 1812, a submarine landslide near where UCSB is today affected the coast; the 1964 Alaska earthquake caused problems for the harbors and did damage to boats and docks in Ventura and Port Hueneme, and the 2010 Chile earthquake, as well as the 2011 Fukushima, Japan, earthquakes were followed by tsunamis that reached Ventura County and caused damage.

The potential loss of life isn’t the only factor to keep in mind. The damage to local infrastructure could potentially disrupt the county’s economy for a long period of time.

“We’ve got two power plants on the coast. We have a sewer treatment plant on the coast. We’ve got the commercial harbors at Port Hueneme and the commercial end of Ventura Harbor,” said Carnathan, “all of which are very important to our local economy and they could be severely affected.”

After the 2011 Fukushima, Japan earthquake, a current generated by the following tsunami struck the Ventura Harbor and caused upwards of $1 million in damages to docks and equipment, according to Carnathan.

In May, Ventura County Emergency Services will host Operation Medical Base, a training exercise simulating a category 9.2 earthquake in the southland. An earthquake was chosen as the faux disaster because of its likelihood to trigger multiple events, like fires, building collapses and tsunamis.

“Using a catastrophic earthquake as a starting point is the best way to talk about an all-hazards approach,” said Dan Wall, manager of Ventura County’s Emergency Preparedness Office and the director of the Ventura County Medical Reserve Corps. Wall spoke to the VC Reporter from Atlanta, Ga., where he was attending a disaster preparedness convention.

During the simulation, multiple services from around the county — and from across the country and beyond — will take part in first-response simulations in order to better prepare for the inevitable reality of a major disaster. For Wall, having first responders meet face to face is the most important part of preparing for a disaster.

“The people will not respond to the message received,” said Wall in regard to hoping for an evacuation during a disaster. “It really is important to get the first responders face to face and talk about what-ifs.”

In case of an earthquake, with tsunami or otherwise, there are several methods by which emergency services will inform the public — depending on when and where the event takes place. If the earthquake or landslide that generates a tsunami happens across the world, as it did in 2011 after the Fukushima, Japan, event, there could be hours in between the creation of the tsunami and landfall on the coast of California.

“When it’s coming from a great distance away, we’ll have hours of warning and we’ll also have height information,” says Carnathan.

In such an event residents will be notified via the VC Alert notification system, which uses a text message to disperse information in case of disaster.

If the tsunami is generated in close proximity to the coast, either by an offshore up-thrust earthquake or by landslide, there may be no warning whatsoever before the tsunami strikes. Carnathan says that if such an event were to occur, residents of beach communities and perhaps at the beach should be aware of warning signs of an imminent tsunami.

“All we can really do is ask people to be prepared that when a warning comes out they move to high ground,” says Carnathan. “If they’re at the coast, and they feel heavy shaking for 20 seconds or longer, move to high ground. Don’t wait for us to tell you because more than likely we’re not going to have time.”

Unlike in parts of the Midwest where tornadoes are a regular occurrence, there is no siren or alert system that can be heard near the beach. Residents will only be notified via telephone or text message.

“Dr. Lucy Jones from the USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] used to say that it wasn’t physically possible or probable that we’d have a tsunami in our county,” said Wall. “Over the past few years, now we’re stating that it’s overtly a possibility and whether there’s a warning or not is a question-mark scenario.”

Dan Wall and Operation Medical Base are looking for volunteers to act as victims of a disaster on May 2 in Freedom Park, Camarillo. For more information on the event and to volunteer, visit www.volunteerventuracounty.org.


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