Tsunami presses disaster readiness

CARLSBAD — When the city’s emergency preparedness manager got news of the massive earthquake and tsunami that caused instant devastation in Japan on March 11, he assessed the local coast to see if there was a need to send residents an emergency alert.
David Harrison, emergency preparedness manager for Carlsbad, was notified of the tsunami that hit Japan, by receiving a text message from the United States Geological Survey, or USGS.
He said he was aware of the tsunami early, and that a message came in an abbreviated subject line to his phone, which allowed him to act locally.
“Friday morning I went down and looked at some areas and talked to residents. There was no visible impact from the water,” he said.
Carlsbad is also a member of a regional management group that is shared by cities countywide, and includes first responders on 24-7 duty who have radios that are part of a communication system.
“The county made an announcement there was going to be a countywide conference call to discuss a potential tsunami for coastal cities,” he said.
The message went out at 5 a.m. to announce a 6 a.m. conference call.
He said during the call things were discussed such as what the appropriate message to residents would be and how to get the message out to the public.
Ultimately, California State Park lifeguards were alerted to observe the wave activity, which had only been reported to have slight variations, Harrison said.
The city’s website was updated to include coastal information and any affects from Japan’s tsunami, but had there been a local emergency alert then AlertSanDiego would have been one of the methods used to warn residents in real time, he said.
AlertSanDiego is used by emergency response personnel to notify at-risk homes and businesses with information in the event of an emergency.
The system uses the region’s 911 database that is provided by local telephone companies, and is able to make contact to land-line telephones even if the phone number is unlisted.
People with cell phones and VoIP phones are urged to register their numbers and e-mail addresses on the site.
It is a countywide program that is aimed to send emergency alert notices to a specific geographical area that’s been identified by law enforcement, said Yvette Urrea Moe, communication specialist with the county of San Diego.
Alert San Diego was established just before the 2007 wildfires, and so far it has been used 30 times, according to the county.
The most notable alert was sent on Feb. 14, 2009, after the disappearance of 14-year-old Amber Dubois of Escondido.
“They called 103,000 people,” Urrea Moe said.
Another time it was used was when an adult went missing in Oceanside and 9,000 people were called.
There was also a time that a mobile home park had its entrance blocked due to flooding and the few hundred people that lived in the park were notified.
The most recent use of the system took place Dec. 23, 2010, when there was a fire at San Diego Gas & Electric Co. power plant in Escondido.
More than 7,500 people were notified and asked to shelter in place due to the smoky conditions.
The system is available in four languages, Urrea Moe said.
People are also able to call 211 after they receive a call from AlertSanDiego, to hear the emergency message again.
“In Carlsbad we can tailor these reverse 911 calls through AlertSanDiego,” Harrison said.
The city can identify which section has an emergency.
“You’ll get the call if we decide to make that call,” Harrison said.
To sign up for Alert San Diego, visit co.san-diego.ca.us/oes/ready/signup.html.
According to a government website, “A tsunami can move hundreds of miles per hour in the open ocean and smash into land with waves as high as 100 feet or more. Turn on your radio to learn if there is a tsunami warning if an earthquake occurs and you are in a coastal area. Move inland to higher ground immediately and stay there. Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the beach to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave you are too close to escape it. CAUTION — If there is noticeable recession in water away from the shoreline this is nature’s tsunami warning and it should be heeded. You should move away immediately.”

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