Onslow County becomes "Tsunami Ready"

Onslow County Tsunami Ready program

New Bern, NC – INTRO - Hurricane season came to a close Thursday, which likely means emergency officials are already making plans for the 2007 season starting next June. One county's emergency management department marked the end of the 2006 season by announcing they're prepared for another natural event never before seen on the U-S East Coast. George Olsen has more.

IN: Mention the possibility of a tsunami reaching the U-S East
OUT: higher ground immediately. I'm George Olsen.
TT: 4:04

Mention the possibility of a tsunami reaching the U-S East Coast to Onslow County director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Mark Goodman and he says his reaction today is markedly different from yesterday.

00:57 If you'd asked me that two years ago, I would have laughed at you, but

Now Onslow County is the first North Carolina coastal county to be certified Tsunami Ready by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The tsunami threat for eastern North Carolina is still somewhat laughable

00:46 I believe the statistics of a tsunami warning for the east coast is probably on the order of 1-to-4-hundred years.

John Cole, the warning co-ordination meteorologist at the Newport National Weather Service office. The odds, yes, are long. But the threat is real. Mark Goodman.

01:54 And in the Canary Island there is a currently extinct volcano that someday, half of that mountain will slide someday into the Atlantic Ocean, and that's an area about 9 miles long and about one mile wide, and when that happens that will send a mega-tsunami across the Atlantic to the east coast of the U-S.

Coastal North Carolina is used to and prepared for hurricanes. NOAA also has a Storm Ready program for which Onslow County is certified. But while being Storm Ready and Tsunami Ready have multiple similarities an ability to receive alerts 24-hours-a-day amongst the qualifiers there are major differences between the two time being preeminent.

10:28 I think one of the unique things is you don't have as much lead time in a tsunami event. For instance, another possibility for a tsunami would be an undersea landslide right off the immediate east coast, and in that event there would be very little lead time for a localized tsunami for the coast. It would be within minutes.

The lead-time for earlier mentioned scenarios ranged upwards to ten hours that's compared to days-long notice for a possible hurricane. And the swath a tsunami might cut is also, in general, much smaller than a hurricane. The primary concern during a tsunami is the immediate coastal area the beach. Mark Goodman notes that in an Armageddon type scenario like a strike by a half-mile wide meteorite there may be no place safe to evacuate to, but in the case of a medium-intensity tsunami, beach-going public could be able to walk to safety outward and/or upward.

18:02 If you get 300 feet, 100 yards off the beach, you'll probably survive. You'll be away from that major kinetic energy as it comes up the shore. And the higher you can get above sea level, the better off you'll be.

John Cole notes Norfolk, Virginia's tsunami ready program involves evacuating people to the 2nd and 3rd floors of buildings. While Cole says tsunami prediction is still in its infancy, it is improving, with more monitoring equipment going in place next year.

13:23 We do have new DART buoys deep ocean assessment buoys that are being deployed in the Atlantic right now. I think we have one or two out there now, and they should all be deployed in 2007. Seven DART buoys that can detect within a couple of centimeters the displacement on the ocean surface because over the open ocean tsunamis travel at 4-to-5 hundred miles per hour, and because the size difference on the open surface is very minimal so you need something that can detect minute changes on the ocean surface for tsunami detection, and these buoys can do that.

There are also satellites that are getting better at picking up ocean surface displacement synonymous with tsunamis. But when a tsunami approaches, warning the public will be decidedly low-tech media announcements, sirens on trucks and the written language. Mark Goodman.

06:09 You have to have signage in coastal areas that alerts the public that is traveling that this is particularly important in the summertime with our population swelling because of tourism, to make citizens aware they're entering an area that can have a tsunami wave and advising them that if that wave occurs, get off the beaches don't stand there and watch the water run out leave, get off the beaches and get to higher ground immediately.

I'm George Olsen.