Calif. Better Prepared to Handle Tsunami Warnings

March 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The tsunami warning that went out on Saturday following the quake off the coast of Chile emptied beaches in California from Malibu to Marin. The dangerous waves never came, but it is important to understand how state and local authorities decide whether to order tsunami evacuations.

"In California, there's about 350,000 people that would be impacted if there was a major tsunami," Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management Agency said.

California's Emergency Management Agency says its tsunami warning system worked much better this time. Chile's 8.8 earthquake prompted leaders into action, notifying local authorities in coastal areas to get ready for tidal surges.

The state was criticized back in 2006 for its lack of coordination when an earthquake rattled Japan.

"We were pleased with the ability to immediately connect with all the counties and be able to provide them any information and updates," Huston said.

The Sacramento Operations Center had even mapped out where the big waves might occur, with Pismo Beach having the most potential for destruction with surges possibly reaching 9 feet.

As it turned out, the big destructive waves never materialized; just larger than normal waves in some areas.

In Long Beach, the ocean receded big time, leaving some boats stranded in the harbor without water and the shoreline was much further away for a time.

Stinson Beach Fire Chief Kenny Stevens remembers the state's response last time and says his city was able to react much better Saturday, implementing the reverse 911.

"Using the Telephone Emergency Network that notified the residents in low-lying areas of the possible tsunami advisory," Stevens said.

Also since the last time, the state updated its tsunami maps that were 20 years old and did not reflect new subdivisions.

"You've got many of the communities and neighborhoods that, if there was a major tsunami that occurred, this is how far in the water would go," Huston said. "This is the people that need to get out."

Even though the state thinks the response wen twell, it will still review the process and make changes as needed.