All low-lying coastal areas are vulnerable to tsunamis. Travel times for damaging tsunamis are generally less than 10 minutes. For this reason a tsunami early warning system may not always be effective. Tsunamis are often accompanied by natural signs that can be sensed by an alert person. Recognizing any of these tsunami warning signs at the beach or coast could save your life!
Be Tsunami Smart – Sensing a tsunami
- Strong local earthquakes may cause tsunamis.
- FEEL the ground shaking severely? Drop, Cover, Hold On until the shaking stops then
- RUN to high ground.
- As a tsunami approaches shorelines, the ocean may pull back from the coastline significantly, exposing the ocean floor, reefs and fish.
- SEE an unusual disappearance of water? RUN to high ground.
- A roar like an oncoming train or plane may be heard as a tsunami rushes toward the shore.
- HEAR the roar? RUN to high ground.
- RUN to high ground if you experience any one of these natural signs.
- DO NOT wait for official evacuation orders. Authorities may not have enough time to issue an official warning.
- Immediately leave low-lying coastal areas e.g. beaches, and head inland or to higher ground. Higher ground may be a hill or may also be above the third storey of a concrete building.
- DO NOT try to surf the tsunami or go down to the beach to watch the wave come in.
- Do not wait for all three natural signs to occur before taking action. If you can see the wave you are already too close to outrun it.
The following are some additional guidelines for protecting yourself before, during and after a tsunami.
Before a tsunami
- Find out if your home is in a danger area by knowing the distance it is from the coast.
- If you live in a low-lying area – for example near to the beach – learn the quickest way to get to high ground. A safe area would be at least 30m (~100feet) above sea level and 3km (~ 2miles) inland. Teach and practice the evacuation plan with all family members.
- Ensure that all family members know how to recognize natural tsunami warning signs as there may not be enough time for authorities to issue an official tsunami warning.
- Discuss tsunamis with your family and friends. Everyone should know what to do in case all members are not together during an event.
- Emergency items such as canned foods, medication, flashlights, battery-operated radios, bottled water and First Aid kits should be readily available and working properly.
During a tsunami
- If you are at the beach or coast and detect signs of a tsunami evacuate and move to higher ground at once.
- Do not wait for an official warning before evacuating; authorities may not have enough time to issue a tsunami warning.
- Sometimes tsunamis may occur without the initial pulling back of the sea. In this case, a massive wall of water may be seen approaching land. If you can see the wave you are already too close to outrun it.
- If you are unable to move to higher ground, go to an upper floor (at least 3rd storey) or roof of a concrete and reinforced building. As a last resort, climb a strong tree if trapped on low ground.
- If swept up by a tsunami, look for something to use as a raft.
- A tsunami is not a single wave, but a series of waves that can come ashore for hours. The first wave may not be the largest. Stay out of the danger areas until an “all-clear’ is issued by a recognized authority e.g. your national disaster management agency.
- If a Tsunami Warning is issued NEVER go down to the beach to watch the waves come in.
- Do not try to surf the tsunami.
After a tsunami
- If possible, stay tuned to a radio, or television to get the latest emergency information.
- Help injured or trapped persons and call for help if necessary.
- Keep out of stagnant water.
- Open windows and doors to help dry buildings.
- Shovel mud while it is still moist to give walls and floors an opportunity to dry.
- Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
- Check food supply and test drinking water. Fresh food that has come in contact with flood water may be contaminated and should be thrown out.
- Check for damage to sewer and water lines.
Tsunami Smart Public Education Material
Caribbean Tsunami Information Center
UNESCO IOC International Tsunami Information Center
NOAA Center for Tsunami Research
Lessons Save Lives – The story of Tilly Smith