Earthquake: Ready To Ride It Out? Part 1

May 2, 2011

By Steven Sandberg

BROOKINGS, Ore. — Emergency responders on the Southern Oregon and Northern California coasts admit they were not fully prepared when March’s earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami along the West Coast.

Now, after millions of dollars in damage, crews say things need to change if we are to be ready when a similar earthquake hits in the future. Emergency crews say preparing for a tsunami is one thing, but actually responding to the real thing, is something else. They hope one silver lining to the damage the Oregon coast suffered in March is that they’ll know what to do next time.

As a powerful earthquake devastated Japan, the force sent tsunami waves toward the west coast. In Brookings, emergency crews thought they were ready for when the waves hit hours later. Now, they say they weren’t.

Almost immediately after the earthquake hit Japan, officials with the City of Brookings, the Coast Guard, Curry County Sheriff’s Office, and the Port of Brookings Harbor went through their safety protocol. Tsunami sirens were sounded before dawn, and announcements went out over the radio, but not everyone got the message.

There were certain elements of the warning system that failed. Some of the sirens failed, some people didn’t hear the sirens, and some didn’t receive some notification in some other way. Those that did receive notification found it unclear. A lot of focus was on the first arrival time of the wave, and not the later arrival times of subsequent waves.

The report from NOAA was that the first wave would arrive at 7:20 that morning, and after that time came and went without a major incident, most people thought the coast was clear.

Some people had wandered back to the beaches when the big waves hit after 10am. Four people were rescued after being swept out to sea – they weren’t the only ones unprepared. Many boat owners were unprepared for the tsunami as well. Those who didn’t know how to read what was coming saw their boats rocked and even sank by the crushing waves.

Some boats got out of the harbor early, and avoided the damage, but many others stayed, convinced there was no danger after the minimal impact of the first waves.

Harbor Manager, Ted Fitzgerald, says boat owners had no idea what was coming. He says the experience served as a wake up call, after boats were tossed around the harbor and entire moorings were ripped out and he says they will be ready if there’s a next time.

Unfortunately, it took millions of dollars in damage to get the lesson across