Having lived on Kauai for two years as a travel nurse, I am familiar with a lurking anxiousness that results from the constant threat of a tsunami, compounded with the inability to run far, far away from that tsunami… Kauai is part of the Hawaiian Islands, which record one tsunami per year and one damaging tsunami every seven years (Pacific Disaster Center). Hawaiian tsunamis have accounted for more lost lives than all other local disasters (e.g., flooding, hurricanes, and earthquakes) combined. Residents and visitors of the very isolated Hawaiian Islands are tsunami sitting ducks; it is imperative that they know when a tsunami is imminent so that they may evacuate to higher ground and wait for further information.
The last major Hawaiian tsunami threat came on October 27. Over 100,000 people were forced to evacuate inundation zones after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Canada sent the tsunami warning into effect. My dear friend Emily was surfing off the coast of Kauai when the warning sirens sounded. In an attempt to reach higher ground, she became stuck in traffic with hundreds of other evacuees. She sat in her car for two hours, until the radio announced that the tsunami threat had subsided. Small tsunami waves were recorded across Hawaii; fortunately, there were no reports of major damage or injuries.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association alerts Hawaiian residents and visitors of impending tsunami waves from its Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Ewa Beach, Oahu. The PTWC was established in 1949, following the 1946 Aleutian Island earthquake and a tsunami that killed 165 people in Hawaii and Alaska. The Center maintains a Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog. In the event of a tsunami, these social media sites are updated with warnings. The PTWC also features multiple lines of alert communications (e.g., SMS, e-mail, fax, radio, texting), enabling emergency messages to be sent to the Emergency Alert System, emergency services, and armed forces. What’s more, the Center sounds a population-alerting siren in the event of a tsunami warning – the same siren that Emily and all of Hawaii heard on the evening of October 27.
I am less anxious now that I am far away from the Hawaiian coastline… and as long as the PTWC continues to sound its siren to protect my Hawaiian friends.