San Bruno helped with CANBy Elaine Larsen
Pacifica should serve as a model to other California coastal communities when it comes to disaster preparedness in the event of a tsunami.
That's what the 2006-2007 Grand Jury determined in evaluating the preparedness of coastal cities in San Mateo County. The jury found that while the level of preparedness in the county overall is "mixed," it commended the city of Pacifica for how much work it has done so far.
"Pacifica has a comprehensive education program, a sophisticated communication system, provisions for alerting residents in need and is actively researching warning systems and signage options," the 2006-2007 Grand Jury report reads. "Other communities are much less connected and prepared."
Tsunami is Japanese for "harbor wave." These series of giant, travelling ocean waves are generated by earthquakes below or near the ocean floor, volcanic eruptions or sometimes landslides. The California coast is exposed to tsunamis caused primarily by sub-oceanic earthquakes around the Pacific basin. Tsunamis caused significant damage and loss of life along the coast in 1946, 1960 and 1964. Just recently, a tsunami caused damage to docks in Crescent City in Northern California, reminding residents there of the major tsunami caused by the 1964 Alaska earthquake.
Fortunately, scientists have been able to develop an early warning system. Ocean-bottom pressure sensors measure tsunamis in the open ocean. These tsunami detection buoys collect data that can be communicated via satellite to Tsunami Warning Centers. There is a West Coast and Alaska warning center in Palmer, AK, and a Pacific warning center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service then evaluates the data and determines whether to send out a warning bulletin to regional and local agencies. Such bullets are issued based on the degree of threat. Fortunately, unlike an earthquake, people can be warned of an impending series of tsunami waves and take action.
On June 14, 2005, the county received an alert but only a minor tsunami was detected and the warning was cancelled 72 minutes later. More recently, a 6.6 earthquake struck Hawaii on Oct. 14, 2006 - the day of the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival when an estimated 100,000 were visiting that coastal community.
"Fortunately, the earthquake did not cause a tsunami but the incident raised awareness of the need to provide vulnerable public areas such as beaches with signs that indicate how to recognize an alert and what to do should one occur," the Grand Jury found.
"The 2005 event exposed serious communication problems - most coastal residents, including emergency personnel such as the Red Cross and Half Moon Bay city manager, learned of the imminent tsunami from TV rather than through the communication channels outlined in the county OES plan. Part of the problem was inadequate equipment, which is now being rectified, but in some cases procedures were not followed," the Grand Jury determined.
Even more critical, an 8.1 earthquake near Japan on Nov. 15, 2006, generated a tsunami that caused extensive damage to the Crescent City harbor and lesser damage to the Santa Cruz harbor.
The Grand Jury recommended that the Emergency Services Council - which consists of one member of the Board of Supervisors and a councilmember from each city in San Mateo County - work closely with communities to help them become more tsunami ready.
The Grand Jury specifically recommends that city managers and the county manager:
Develop an emergency tsunami response plan that specifies how the public and emergency service providers are to be informed of an alert and what their response should be.
Educate the public on the dangers of tsunami, how the alert system works and what to do in the event of an incident.
Install tsunami signs and a siren/broadcast system.
Acquire inundation maps for the entire San Mateo County coast.
Ensure that the resources of the Red Cross are sufficient and appropriately distributed.
Acquire the resources and technology to make San Mateo County tsunami ready by Dec. 31, 2007.
"The Grand Jury looked at all the coastal cities and specifically mentioned Pacifica and our level of preparedness. Pacifica was seen as a useful model for the other communities," Councilmember Julie Lancelle said during Monday night's council meeting.
"We need to give kudos to Police Capt. Fernando Realyvasquez, Pacifica's emergency preparedness coordinator, who has played a pivotal role. It was very heartening to read how well we're doing as far as emergency preparedness."
About Pacifica's Community Alert Network
Pacifica has had access to the Community Alert Network, known as the CAN system, since August of 1997. People with listed phone numbers automatically receive an automated phone message of impending emergencies.
The CAN system was developed in cooperation with the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, San Bruno Police and Pacifica Police in the wake of several prisoner break outs from the SF Jail located just over the hill from Pacifica in San Bruno.
But the CAN system only dials listed telephone numbers that include a Pacifica address. If you have an unlisted telephone number or listed number with unlisted address, the Pacifica Police Department needs you to fill out a form. Unlisted information provided will be for emergency notification purposes only.
Residents who no longer have a "land line" and are instead using only a cell phone as their primary telephone number must also fill out a form. Forms are available at the Pacifica Police Department, 2075 Coast Highway or by contacting Crime Prevention Officer Joe Haggarty at 738-7324.
Copyright ©2006 Pacifica Tribune. Published 11/29/2006.