In March of 1964 a 9.2 earthquake struck that resulted in devastating damage to Southcentral Alaska, and forever changed the landscape of many of our coastal communities, including Homer and Seldovia. 52 years later, we are reminded that we still face a risk of emergency and disaster each day — especially as we think back to our recent 7.1 earthquake in January.
Annually, the State of Alaska in cooperation with the Kenai Peninsula Borough and communities on the Peninsula conduct a tsunami warning test each March near the anniversary of the 1964 Earthquake. This year, the test will be conducted on Wednesday, March 30, at about 10:15 a.m. The Borough will be testing the siren warning system located in coastal areas — tests of the Emergency Alert System will also occur in all areas of the Kenai Peninsula
Residents and visitors in Homer, Seward, and Kachemak Bay will hear the actual tsunami warning sound, followed by a message indicating that the message was a test. Throughout Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, expect our local radio and television stations to broadcast the message as well. Text and audio on these stations should indicate that the message is only for testing purposes. The Central Peninsula does not have any coastal areas with warning sirens.
This annual test is specially authorized to use the actual dissemination that a real tsunami warning would utilize, and provides an opportunity for emergency managers, community leaders, broadcast partners and others to verify that the systems will function properly in the event of an actual earthquake or tsunami.
Modern technology has changed the way we provide warnings to residents, and has extended to utilize phone calls, texting, and “push” notifications to mobile phones. Some applications on mobile phones may pick up the March 30th test warning and notify their users as well.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough utilizes a system to rapidly disseminate information to telephone numbers throughout our area using voice and text messages. Mobile phone users are not automatically opted-in to the system. To receive these notifications on your mobile device, visit www.kpb.us/emergency and click on the ‘Register your cell phone’ link. This service is used only for emergency notifications, and registered telephone numbers are kept confidential. It is not necessary to register your landline telephones.
In addition to warning systems, now is a good time to review emergency preparations for yourself and family members. During the 1964 quake, we saw damage to roads and bridges connecting the Kenai to Anchorage and beyond — including the Port of Anchorage that receives the majority of freight and supplies for the state. Generally, all families should strive to be self-sufficient for at least seven days after a disaster. This could include having enough food, water, medication, and other essential supplies on hand. Families should also consider having backup generators, heating, and cooking sources in case of disruption or damage to utility systems.
The Office of Emergency Management provides information for individuals, families, and businesses on how to prepare for emergencies, and what plans are in place to respond to a major event. Please contact our office at 262-2098 for questions about the upcoming tests or disaster preparedness. Documents on preparedness and emergency plans are available on our website at www.kpb.us/emergency
Dan Nelson is the program coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management.