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At 10 a.m. this morning, my cell phone buzzed and a text arrived from Humboldt Alert, Humboldt County’s emergency notification system. This is the system that will notify you when you need to take action such as evacuating for flood, tsunami or wildfire. It took less than a minute for the county to issue the alert and my phone to receive it. But it only worked for me because I had taken action. I had gone to the Humboldt Alert website (http://www.humboldtgov.org/alerts) 18 months ago and enrolled in the program.

This bears repeating. County notifications are not automatic. Current state regulations require you to opt INTO the system. That could change in the future, but at present you have to take the effort to either go online or call the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services (707-268-2500) to list a cell phone, land line, and/or email address to receive alerts. These are tied to the addresses you list. You only receive alerts if the location you’ve specified is in the alert area. If a tsunami evacuation is called for the coast and you live in Willow Creek, you won’t get the alert. You can, however, specify several locations — such as home, work, an elderly parent’s home or your child’s school.

Once the system is activated as it was today, you are asked to respond with a simple YES that you received the message. I have designated my cell, home phone and email address as message points. I saw the text message first and as soon as I responded, the system knows it doesn’t have to call or email me as well. If I hadn’t responded, the messages would have gone to my phone and email. Today’s test was cancelled after a half hour, but if it had been a real emergency, the system would have continued trying to reach me.

The alert system is only one piece of making you tsunami safe. You need to know how to respond appropriately when messages are issued. Today was easy; it was only a test and I didn’t have to do anything. But had it been a real emergency, I need to understand first that it is real, and second what to do. In that case, the message would have included some instructions, such as a time window and if I needed to evacuate. Some alerts, such as fires may require a very quick response and others, like a tsunami coming from far away may have a longer time window.

Any alert is difficult to comprehend when you first see it. Our brains have a hard time recognizing new, unfamiliar information and our default reaction is denial. Family and business emergency planning can make a difference. Take the time today or this week to talk with family members about what you would do if you received a real alert. What types of alerts are most likely where you live or work? Wildland fires can occur anywhere in the state and they may require very quick response. Near the coast? You might be in a tsunami hazard zone. Do you know how to get to a safe area?

Since this is Tsunami Preparedness Week, tsunamis deserve a little more of my attention, and effort on your part. Know Your Zone — your tsunami zone. Unlike wildfires, which can spread almost anywhere, the tsunami hazard area is well defined. It is greatest at the coast and diminishes inland and with elevation. Scientists at the California Geological Survey have been working with North Coast Counties to map the tsunami hazard zone. This is depicted on maps as a yellow area, and in many places, noted by Entering and Leaving Tsunami Hazard Zone signs.

Finding out if you are in or out of the zone has become easier with the Humboldt County Tsunami web-APP (http://arcg.is/2q9U50p). Todd Becker, environmental analyst for Humboldt County Public Works, developed an interactive web-based app for Humboldt County to easily locate tsunami hazard zones relative to where you work, live or play. Todd’s map, like the county maps, is based on the largest credible tsunami likely to affect our area, the one produced by a magnitude-9 earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

You won’t get a text notification from Humboldt OES when a Cascadia earthquake sends a tsunami our way. The earthquake will likely disrupt communications infrastructure so that phones and email won’t operate. Don’t worry — you will know that a tsunami is coming. But it requires a little more effort on your part. You need to understand the natural warning — in this case a minute or more of earthquake shaking. Use Todd’s map to plan your evacuation route to get to a safe area.

The Samoa Peninsula is one of the most tsunami vulnerable areas of Humboldt County. And thanks to efforts of Jason Patton (formerly a lecturer at Humboldt State University and the College of the Redwoods and now an engineering geologist with the California Geological Survey), we have excellent maps of evacuation routes in the Manila and Samoa areas. My favorite dog walks are in Manila and every time I see an evacuation sign, I think of Jason’s efforts.

Todd and Jason have several things in common, they are both products of the HSU Geology Department, both wizards at navigating Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and have volunteered their efforts to helping make the North Coast tsunami resilient. Now they have one more thing in common. The Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group recognizes their efforts with the 2019 RCTWG Community Service Award. This year, the awards will be presented on March 30 at the Humboldt Grange #501 annual Tspaghetti Feed at 6 p.m. 5845 Humboldt Hill Road, Eureka. Dr. Patton and last year’s RCTWG award recipient Linda Nellist will give presentations on 2018 tsunamis and on personal preparedness. Please join us for food to eat and food for thought.

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