Awareness key to preparing for tsunamis

Published: Apr. 1, 2016 at 7:36 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 1, 2016 at 10:31 PM HST
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Jefferson Elementary School is in a prime location, just a short walk away from Waikiki Beach. It’s also well within the tsunami inundation zone.

"It's not a matter of 'if' a tsunami is going to come our way, it's a matter of 'when.'" said Principal Garret Zakahi.

That’s why students take part in two evacuation drills per year. And the timing of Friday’s coincided with the 70th anniversary of the 1946 April Fools' tsunami, which killed 159 people in Hawaii.

From that tragedy was born a tsunami warning system, and several layers of preparedness, including April being named "tsunami awareness month."

Staying ready and teaching kids about how to handle a tsunami warning is critical in minimizing any loss of human life in the case of a disaster, officials say. Evacuation plans are just part of knowing how to identify -- and react -- to a tsunami.

"If you're standing on the beach or in a low area, and the ground shakes and you actually fall to the ground, the first thing you want to do is duck, cover, and hold, but then immediately get up and move inland," said Kevin Richards, state earthquake and tsunami planner.

Identifying a tsunami by sound is also key.

"You might hear from the ocean a large roar. You might liken it to a train," Richards said.

And of course, if the ocean currents look unusual or suspicious, chances are it's time to move.

"It might be a receding effect, it might be big turn currents, don't stand around and wait for someone to tell you," Richards said.

Technology has improved significantly over the years, and scientists can now quickly identify earthquakes and tsunamis. Social and mainstream media help disseminate information in real time.

However, no matter how advanced the technology gets, officials say, the backbone of escaping harm is being aware and prepared.

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - For more information on how to prepare for a tsunami, visit the Tsunami Awareness Program.

Mobile users: See a slideshow of the impact of the 1946 tsunami in Hawaii here.

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