What those in low-lying areas should do in case of a tsunami is discussed at town hall meeting


In the event that a magnitude 7.0 or higher earthquake occurs off the coast of Southern California causing a tsunami that could hit the shore of Santa Monica Bay in a matter of minutes, what should you do?

If you live or work in low-lying coastal areas like Venice or Marina del Rey, then your best bet is most likely to get in a vehicle and head inland for higher elevation, according to the Los Angeles City Emergency Preparedness Department.

If you’re near the coast at the time and getting in a vehicle may not be practical, given the amount of time remaining to evacuate and the likely surge of traffic, then your best option might be to seek refuge above the third floor of a multi-story building, according to the Emergency Preparedness Department.

Hypothetical evacuation circumstances such as these were among the topics addressed at a town hall meeting hosted by the Venice Neighborhood Council Thursday, June 7th, on the risks and hazards of high waves, flooding and tsunamis in low-lying coastal areas like Venice.

Panelists from various agencies, including the USC Tsunami Research Center, the Los Angeles City Emergency Preparedness Department, the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, discussed issues such as how tsunamis are formed, the risks and hazards of the natural disaster and evacuation procedures.

A tsunami, Japanese for “harbor wave,” is a series of waves — usually caused by an earthquake — that has the potential to strike low-lying coastal areas, including the local areas of Venice, Los Angeles Harbor and West Los Angeles beaches, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tsunamis, which can range in size from inches to over 100 feet, occur on the average about twice per year throughout the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But while a tsunami is generally a rare event, it can be a “high consequence event,” says Larry Meyerhofer of the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Department.

Mark Legg, president of Legg Geophysical of the USC Tsunami Research Center, said people around the world saw how deadly a tsunami can be in December 2004, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed in a tsunami that attacked Southeast Asia.

Tsunamis are “rare” events for Southern California, says Legg, but areas like Venice are at risk in the event they do happen, because they are at “very low elevation along the coast.” Parts of Venice are also subject to the same hazardous flooding conditions that occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

With the potential for local communities to be affected by a tsunami or flooding, it is important that people learn what to do in case such a natural disaster hits their area, Legg said.

“Education is very important,” Legg said of preparing for the disasters. “Something like this (tsunami) is very dangerous.”

Venice community members also recognize the need to educate the community, and Neighborhood Council members said they organized the town hall meeting just for that reason.

“We here in Venice need to be prepared,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice in the 11th Council District and moderated the town hall.

Neighborhood Council president DeDe Audet echoed the councilman’s sentiments, saying that residents need to get past the denial that they may be at risk, as was the case with people in New Orleans.

“I think that situation exists for us too,” Audet said of residents being in denial of the risk. “We have to get through the denial to get people to realize that we can protect ourselves.”

Meyerhofer said the city’s Emergency Preparedness Department has worked over the last year and a half to develop tsunami evacuation plans for low-lying areas, including Venice, Los Angeles Harbor and West Los Angeles.

The plans include an “aggressive community outreach program” consisting of information brochures that give facts about tsunamis, evacuation recommendations and a map detailing the evacuation area and routes.

The brochures are expected to be mailed out to every resident and business owner within the evacuation area of the low-lying communities later this month, Meyerhofer said.

The tsunami evacuation area map for Venice, Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey shows the areas in red that need to be evacuated if a tsunami warning is issued. The evacuation area is bordered on the east by major streets such as Lincoln Boulevard and the Marina Freeway.

If you feel a strong earthquake or if a tsunami warning is issued, then you should “evacuate the area in red on the map immediately” following the evacuation routes, and head inland for higher ground, the brochure says.

The evacuation area in red indicates a “worst-case scenario” but that’s what emergency officials need to plan for, Legg noted.

Warnings of tsunamis caused by distant earthquakes that will take hours to arrive are broadcast through standard National Weather Service methods, including National Oceanic &Atmospheric Administration weather radio or the Emer- gency Alert System.

Warnings may also be issued through a recorded phone message or local news stations, and Los Angeles officials may also issue an evacuation order.

But for more-local earthquakes, such as off the Southern California coast, that can cause tsunamis to head for shore in minutes, the warning will be the earthquake itself, Legg and Meyerhofer said.

“Your warning will be the earthquake, on a local event,” Legg said.

The city is working toward updating its warning notification system to residents, Meyerhofer noted. There is currently no siren notification system, but officials are exploring the possibility and the city is also in the process of creating signs identifying evacuation routes, he said.

The Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station is scheduled to test a mass notification with tsunami warning loudspeakers at Burton Chace Park in the Marina at noon Friday, June 15th. The equipment is being considered as part of a warning system for Marina residents in the event of impending danger from a natural disaster, sheriff’s officials said.

Three or four devices will be tested, each for approximately 30 to 45 seconds, and will include both siren tones and voice broadcasts.

For people living and working in low-lying coastal areas, a main suggestion is to determine if they are within the tsunami evacuation area and prepare for possible evacuation, Meyerhofer said.

“People need to be familiar with the tsunami risk and find out if they live in that area and develop a plan for it,” he said.

Part of the evacuation preparation includes putting together an emergency “go-kit” containing needed supplies for up to a week, such as food, water, medications, change of clothes, pet food and important documents.

In the event a local tsunami does occur, law enforcement officials said their response involves helping with the evacuation effort and restoring order following the natural disaster.