What Should You Do If You're Told a Tsunami Is Coming?

What are the best things to do when a tsunami strikes? How can you prepare for a tsunami? We take a look at tsunami safety, and give you six useful tips to help you prepare and survive.

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Tsunami warning

This advice was collated with the help of Kirk Willcox from Surf Aid International, a non-profit organization, and partner in the World Nomads Footprints Program, which has had tremendous experience with tsunami-affected areas.

1. Be Prepared For a Tsunami

If you are travelling to areas that are known to be tsunami hotspots, it's vital to be prepared.

Inside your travel pack, make sure you keep an emergency kit in case you need to make a dash in the middle of the night.

Stock food, water, climate-appropriate clothing, and if possible a small first aid kit – keep it packed with enough essentials for a few days.

However, try your best to keep it light so you can pick it up and scamper in an instant. You might need it if you have to.

2. Run Up the Hill

Kirk said this is literally the best advice he can give in regard to tsunami safety.

If the feeling is that a tsunami is about to hit your area, it's better to be safe than sorry (or submerged).

The three vital signs you can use to detect an impending tsunami are;

A) You feel shakes and tremors underfoot.

B) The water begins to recede.

C) If you hear a loud roar from the ocean.

Also, obviously, be alert to any warnings made by local authorities.

Tsunamis can strike very, very quickly following an earthquake – so the quicker, and higher, you can get up a hill the better.

And if you have a lighter emergency pack, you will travel faster – you don't want to be lumbered by an enormous suitcase!

3. And Stay There

Tsunamis tend not to strike once, there are usually several cycles of a tsunami that are spaced out over time – and some can last up to a few days.

If you go down prematurely, you could get caught up in a second or third wave.

This is why it's important to keep high and dry for a sustained period.

But when making your assessment of when to go back down, it's also very, very important to...

4. Be Extremely Cautious With Warnings and Warning Systems

It has been reported that the death toll for the 2004 Sumatra tsunami was in part caused by a defective tsunami warning system – people simply weren't prepared for the onslaught.

In recent years, developing nations plagued by tsunamis have suffered from the effects of vandals and thieves tampering with and destroying systems put in place to alert authorities about an impending tsunami.

Kirk says that in some cases, authorities have delivered radio broadcasts giving an all clear for people to descend from the hill, only to be trumped by a second, third or fourth wave.

Again, the mantra here is to be extremely cautious when making a decision to descend - listen closely to alerts, but be careful with 'all-clears'.

5. Know the Topography of Your Destination

It's vital to know not only the tsunami history of the area you are travelling to, but also the topography.

Villages established at low sea level will get hammered by a tsunami, where as villages settled in deeper water areas are not as affected.

This information can be vital to your action plan if a tsunami rears its ugly head.

6. Know the Locals and Authorities

It's important to make an attempt, even across language barriers, to talk to locals of the area you are staying in, about what systems and infrastructure is put in place to deal with a tsunami.

Every area is different, so they will range from ‘very little' to ‘comprehensive'. Arm yourself with the best information you can – your investigations could very well save your life!

6 Comments

  • Bradley Jones said Reply

    I am a survivor of a locally generated tsunami in Halape, Hawaii on November 29, 1975. Two earthquakes, 5.5 then 7.7 early in the morning generated a wave that killed people in the pitch black of night. I have a story to share long before people heard the word "tsunami" when the terrible hit Thailand. Although it's been nearly 40 years now, the events of that night are as vivid as if it was last night.

    Who can I share my life experience with this heavily documented event by the USGS?

    Bradley Jones
    415.716.3848

    • Dani radigan said Reply

      I would love to hear more about this event and details as to what you think a person could do to increase their chances of surviving. What type of equipment should one have ready? How much time would one have? Etc

  • Mario jara said Reply

    The whole " authorities have delivered radio broadcasts giving an all clear for people to descend from the hill, only to be trumped by a second, third or fourth wave.
    " actually happened here in Chile in 2010. Lots of people died because of it and we as citizens had a huge trial against authorities. So the advice is very important

  • yo mama said Reply

    I think the best way to survive a tsunami is to get to high ground...

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