Emergency Service Officials Rethink Escape Plan in Light of Draft Tsunami Inundation Zones

Chief Mullican speaks to the Kodiak Island Local Emergency Planning Committee. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
Chief Mullican speaks to the Kodiak Island Local Emergency Planning Committee. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

People around coastal Alaska are looking at how draft tsunami inundation maps could affect their communities. New data from the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management means that the 100-foot-line – or the boundary of the inundation zone – may be moved.

Kodiak Fire Chief Jim Mullican spoke to members of the Kodiak Island Local Emergency Planning Committee Tuesday afternoon. He said part of the challenge is informing the public about what a difference a short distance could make in the case of a tsunami: a person could be safe in one spot and then in danger again two blocks over.

Mullican shared some maps that show how the tsunami inundation zones move after the new data is applied.

“Once they come and say ‘Here are your lines,’ then we have to figure out on the emergency management side through utilizing the LAPC and many other outlets, how do we get the information out to the public so that they understand this? Because it changes a lot of old time knowledge that’s been passed down from the elders.”

Mullican said after a tsunami strikes, emergency service providers need to be aware of what modes of transportation will be open to them, if any. In Kodiak, the new maps show Benny Benson state Airport is threatened.

“You look at the lines, the airport is almost entirely inundated in the worst case scenario. So, the airport gets hit, the wave comes in, even when the water recedes, we’re not going to be able to land planes on it until they’ve been certified that they can land the aircraft. So, there again that adds into the need for our own resiliency here to be able to support ourselves until such time that things can get going again.”

In the case that residents can’t exit by airplane, they need to think about how to feed and shelter people. He said emergency service officials need to talk to each other and consult with their counterparts in state agencies to figure out how they might get supplies to the island when disaster strikes.

The time people have to get to safety varies. Mullican said tsunamis generated in the Gulf of Alaska, for instance, can strike the city with very little warning. But, in the best case scenario, residents would have a few hours.

“If we’re lucky and the warning comes from – okay, this was an event in Peru, now we have a lot of time to be able to get information out via the radio stations, get information out via the tsunami sirens, to get the public moving so that when it gets here 6 hours, 8 hours later, we’re very much prepared for it.”

The unpredictable nature of tsunamis means emergency services need to be on top of new data like updated inundation zone boundaries.

Mullican said the state may finalize the inundation maps by the end of the year, although maybe later.

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