I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Do you have earthquake/tsunami plans? Do you have warning sirens in your community? Do you know what they mean?
My mom had a stockpile of nonperishable food, batteries, toilet paper, flashlights, battery-powered radios, first aid kits, etc., but my family never had plans in the “go here, contact this person” sense. I never heard of anyone else having plans beyond calling certain people or meeting up at someone’s house and listening to the radio.
Hawaii has a statewide civil defense tsunami warning system, which sounds a siren in the event of a possible tsunami. Everyone knows what the siren sounds like, because it is tested at 11:45am on the first Monday of every month. Simultaneously, all radio stations in the state air a prerecorded message explaining what the sirens are, and how in the event of an actual emergency, you should turn on the radio and listen for any urgent bulletins.
During a tsunami threat, when the sirens go off, everything comes to a stop. Going to school and work seems optional-- some people show up, some don’t, and anyone who doesn’t show up is basically excused due to the circumstances. Even if you do go, it’s never really business as usual, as everyone’s thinking about the tsunami threat.
Do you know how long you have to get to safety, and do you know where relative safety is from the tsunami that follows an earthquake anywhere along the coast in the world?
We’re an island state, and major tsunamis are a threat because there’s not much you can do. Even if it hits at an ideal time for evacuation (unlike, say, the April Fools’ Day one that hit in 1941 at 5am…) you can only flee so far. You’re told to head for higher ground, but if you don’t evacuate right away, or if you’re far from transportation, you’re kind of screwed. A major tsunami has not hit our state in a very long time, so I don’t think most people would even know where to flee to. Toward the mountains, toward the middle of the islands are probably the best bet, but I can’t recall ever being told that.
I used to work in an oral history office as a transcriber, and I typed out interviews of survivors of the 1941 tsunami. Some recalled seeing the receding ocean (a clear warning sign that a tsunami is coming) and climbing up coconut trees because there was other choice.
Is fear of earthquakes and tsunamis a real fear for you? Are you aware of the risk but you don’t think about it?
It’s one that I only worry about because it can hit without warning. Hurricanes, at leat, have the decency to have a season, and you don’t really think about them for half a year. And even when it’s the season for them, you can see them developing and you often have a couple days’ warning. Earthquakes, though, can happen at any time and anywhere.
But even then, it’s not something I ever lost sleep over because they happen so infrequently. We had no more than six tsunami warnings and hurricanes combined in the 25 years I lived there. That’s not a lot.
I never really feared tsunamis growing up because I figured we were fairly safe. We lived near the middle of the island, and I figured no matter which way the wave came, we had either a buffer of a few dozen miles, or other islands would get the worst of it. We lived within sight of Pearl Harbor, but a tsunami from that direction seemed unlikely.