Tsunami Preparation

December 2013
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Tsunami - Harbour wave


Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

NOAA's National Weather Service - Tsunami

Japan Tsunami warning/advisories

Tsunami Early warning - C warn Free registration to receive Text messages of Tsunami warning - Useful site with IRIS seismic monitor

Latest Tsunami Reports Hawaii area with web cams

  • Introduction
  • What is a Tsunami?
  • Preparation
  • Evacuation Procedures
  • Useful Links



As many witnessed and experienced on that tragic Boxing day Tsunami event in 2004, it does not take much to produce such a disaster. However, signs do materialize if you know what to look for. For example, on that fateful Boxing day a 10 year old girl on the beach who had recently learnt about Tusmnami’s in class, saw the sea rapidly recede and warned people to run away from the beach, thus saving a few lives in the process. Forewarned is forearmed as the adage goes.


More recently, May 3rd 2006, Tonga islands in the Pacific experienced an earthquake of 8 magnitude producing a Tsunami warning from the NOAA PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER, later cancelled.

However, it was interesting to note that a New Zealand news talk radio station were discussing the fact that they had not been given sufficient warning of the event, as discussed here:


The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre based in Hawaii, believes New Zealand's Civil Defence could have handled yesterday's alert better, but is taking a look at its own systems.

Civil Defence is being criticised for being too slow to react to the emergency but centre geophysicist Gerard Fryer says Civil Defence was quick to respond and knew exactly what was going on. However, he admits there is probably room to improve communications with the public

See whole article here


Like Katrina, it appears we are mainly on our own when the crunch comes, as the authorities may not be in a position to offer immediate assistance or guidance. Therefore it is prudent to gain as much information as possible and practice preparation and survival techniques, prior to any such disaster.



Bear in mind, that many of the preparation guidelines for any major disaster encompass a general formula, that is, emergency kits, evacuation plans, vehicle readiness, alternate rendezvous locations, house security, medical procedures and so on. By encompassing the general “formula” and employing it for each particular type of disaster, you and your family should at least recognise the signs, be prepared and act out your well-drilled evacuation plan. Knowing these preparations and putting them into practice may save lives.

What is a Tsunami?


While tsunamis are often referred to as “tidal waves,” they are not related to tides but are rather a series of waves, or “wave trains,” usually caused by earthquakes. Tsunamis have also been caused by the eruption of some coastal and island volcanoes, submarine landslides, and oceanic impacts of large meteorites. Tsunami waves can

become more than 30 feet high as they come into shore and can rush miles inland across low-lying areas


See Physics of Tsunami’s




1. The vertical movement of the sea floor as a result of large thrust-type submarine earthquakes (called subduction zone earthquakes),

2. Submarine volcanic eruptions,

3. Meteor impacts

4. Coastal (land-based or submarine) landslides.

Tsunamis usually occur in zones of strong seismic activity. The most active tsunami zone is the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by the Ring of Fire


Tsunamis travel outward in all directions from the source area and can strike coastal areas with devastating effect even in areas far removed from the source. Their speed depends on the depth of water. In the deep and open ocean waves can reach speeds of 800 kilometers per hour (approximately 480 mph) while upon reaching shallower water, the speed slows somewhat.

The height of the waves in deep water may range from 30 to 60 centimeters (1-2 feet), producing only a gentle rise and fall of the sea surface, and are usually unnoticed. As a tsunami wave enters the shallow waters of a coastline, its speed decreases rapidly. This causes the front of the wave to slow down relative to the back, producing a greater height as the water piles up onto the coastline.


The first visible indication of an approaching tsunami may be the rapid retreat of the ocean. In some instances, particularly with local tsunamis, the water may initially rise.




What to look for prior to a Tsunami



Heed natural warnings


  • Earthquake
  • Ground shaking
  • Receding of sea – it could return with a massive surge

        Watch the animals – are they behaving in an unusual manner, or exiting an area in large numbers



If you are at the beach or near the ocean, and you feel the earth shake, move immediately inland to higher ground. DO NOT wait for a tsunami warning to be issued. Stay away from rivers and streams that lead to the ocean due to strong tsunami wave action and currents.


Expect large number of waves


  • Each wave could be larger than the next, and wave events could last a few hours


  • Head for high ground – or inland, stay there until danger is definitely subsided


  • Save your lives not belongings


Roads? What roads?

Roads could subside or crack

Watch for Landslides and road blockages


If unable to move to higher inland or inland, as a last resort, attempt to gain height, climb a tall tree or the top floor of a high building


If you are caught up in a Tsunami, grab onto any floatable material




Tsunami leaves debris such as building remains, sand and bodies, watch out for these.



If you have a boat


Tsunami waves are imperceptible in the open ocean. Do not return to

port if you are at sea and a tsunami warning has been issued.


Boats are safer from tsunami damage while in the deep ocean of at least 200

fathoms deep (1,200 feet or 400 meters) rather than moored in a harbour. Port

facilities could become damaged and hazardous with debris.


Listen to mariner radio reports when it is safe to return to port.


In a locally generated earthquake - tsunami scenario, there will be no time to

deploy a boat as waves can come ashore within minutes.


Damaging wave activity and unpredictable currents can affect harbors for some

time following the initial tsunami impact on the coast. Contact the harbour

authority or listen to mariner radio reports before returning to port.

Make sure that conditions in the harbour are safe for navigation and berthing



In the event for evacuation, follow the general formula that we have included in many of the disaster event articles, such as flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes etc.

However, I include a brief overview here for your quick reference.


Evacuation procedures.

If you have to evacuate from your location it is important to have several pre-planned exit routes in order for a safe and immediate evacuation. You must decide on a safe prearranged meeting place if you are to rendezvous with other members of your family or close friends.
This may be a place where everyone is familiar with, it could be near a familiar landmark, a building or prearranged campsite etc.
Consider drawing route maps to avoid confusion for others, but be cautious in how you distribute the maps.


See emergency preparedness



Establish a meeting place.

Assemble a disaster supplies kit.

Check on the school emergency plan of any school-age children you may have

If local authorities ask you to leave your home, they have a good reason to make this request, and you should heed the advice immediately. Listen to your radio or television and follow the instructions of local emergency officials and keep these simple tips in mind-

  1. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and sturdy shoes so you can be protected as much as possible.
  2. Take your disaster supplies kit.
  3. Take your pets with you; do not leave them behind. Because pets are not permitted in public shelters, follow your plan to go to a relatives’ or friend's home, or find a "pet-friendly" hotel.

See our article on Pets in Disaster

  1. Lock your home.
  2. Use travel routes specified by local authorities don't use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous.
  3. Stay away from downed power lines.

See our article on earthquake preparation, which includes a list for disaster kits.


Also see our article on short-term survival preparation



Overview of emergency preparations



Also, below is a list of essential kit for your vehicle – this is a general list and it may be a good idea to keep such a kit in readiness for any event


Vehicle Emergency Kit:



First aid kit (including any medication you or your family are being prescribed)

Torch (plus spare battery and/or torch charged via the vehicle battery)

Blanket, or at least a space survival blanket

Newspapers (for insulation)

Folding shovel (useful in snow and ice to dig your vehicle out)

Spare jacket, socks and gloves


Head gear

Chocolate or energy bars

Container of water

Ice scraper

Jumper cables

Basic set of tools

Old sleeping bag (especially useful if you drive regularly during winter)

Duct tape


Matches or fire-starter

Emergency flare

Tow rope


Last, but by no means least, a fully charged mobile/cell phone


Howard Middleton-Jones

May 2006

Useful links

NOAA Pacific Tsunami warning Center


NOAA West Coast and Alaska Tsunami warning Center


Location map


Tsunami community ready brochure



Surviving a Tsunami—Lessons from Chile, Hawaii, and Japan


Tsunami time travel maps - West Coast and Alaska


Tsunami Preparation


FAQ on Tsunami’s


Ready community requirements



Tsunami –The Great wave - Overview of Tsunami and historical examples



International Tsunami Information Centre (they also produce a useful childrens’ illustrated booklet)


Email HowardMJ