Changes Made to Earthquake and Tsunami Planning since the 2011 disaster in Japan

Last month, the anniversaries of the March 27th 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami, (M 9.2, which impacted Grays Harbor County), and the March 27th 2011 Japanese “Tohoku” Earthquake and Tsunami, (M9.0), passed without much fanfare.  I contacted John Schelling, the Earthquake/Tsunami/Volcano Programs Manager at Washington Emergency Management Division to ask the question, “Have any changes been made to U.S. and/or Washington State planning since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami?” His response is below.



Four years has elapsed since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, I was wondering if any significant changes have been made to any U.S. planning, (or worldwide planning)?  One significant change in Washington State and Grays Harbor County, is the Ocosta School District Elementary School Project where they are building the first vertical evacuation, tsunami engineered, safe haven building in North America, but have there been any other changes?



The short answer is yes, there has been a lot that has changed. Here are a few…


Lesson from Japan: Plan for the right hazard. Japan planned for a smaller M8.2 event…and then had a 9.

In Washington: Fortunately, our paleo tsunami and ghost forest history has shown that we have had to worry about a 9.0 as well as smaller events. However, science is not a static process and new research should give way to updated hazard assessment. We have been re-examining the tsunami hazard from Cascadia and updating the coastal hazard assessments using an earthquake that generates a greater amount of slip, which makes a bigger tsunami.


Lesson from Japan: Vertical evacuation can save thousands of lives…if they are high enough

In Washington: We conducted site-specific hazard assessments for current sites proposed for vertical evacuation using a larger scenario and added additional factors of safety to account for uncertainty.


Lesson from Japan: Don’t rely on your technical warning systems to alert people as there may be issues in getting an accurate warning out before the telecommunications infrastructure is impaired.

In Washington and the US: We continue to educate coastal populations on natural warning signs of a tsunami and recommendation evacuation when people feel the ground shake. The technological system is there as a secondary source of information, if it’s available.


Lesson from Japan: Global Positioning Systems, (GPS) can help identify BIG earthquakes more quickly than traditional seismometers.

In Washington and the US: There are discussions moving forward about how to integrate GPS data into the traditional seismometer-based warning network. Additionally, Washington State is home to one of the larger GPS networks, the Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array (PANGA), which is run out of Central Washington University. For more information on PANGA go to:


Lesson from Japan event here in Washington: Limited English Proficiency communities may be unaware of tsunami hazard zones, tsunami warning sirens, and tsunami evacuation maps/routes given evacuations in Grays Harbor County to a local hospital

In Washington: The State Tsunami Program, in conjunction with state and local partners, including Grays Harbor County, has begun to develop a series of products and outreach materials, such as Public Service Announcements, (PSAs), in Spanish to more effectively educate local coastal populations.

New tsunami evacuation maps in Spanish will help coastal communities

New tsunami evacuation maps will help the Hispanic populations of Grays Harbor and Pacific counties learn the best routes to take in order to safely reach a designated assembly area on high ground. The brochures also offer critical safety information in Spanish to help communities understand what a tsunami is as well as preparedness tips. The brochures have been available in English for some time.


Map shows destinations in the Aberdeen and Hoquiam areas. It’s been available in English for some time, but was recently produced in Spanish.

Following a 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011, the devastating four-story tall Tohoku tsunami killed thousands in Japan on March 11, 2011. At the same time, a tsunami advisory was issued for the coast of Washington, but the largest wave was only expected to reach a foot or two over normal sea level. As a precaution, however, residents in several coastal communities were asked to move to higher ground.

But there were several non-English speaking residents who chose to evacuate to nearby hospitals and other critical facilities instead of high ground or officially designated assembly areas. These spontaneous evacuations to essential facilities caused great concern for hospital staff, emergency managers and first responders. It was subsequently identified that there was a shortfall in localized tsunami preparedness materials accessible to non-English speaking populations.


Map shows destinations in the northern Pacific County. It’s been available in English for some time, but was recently produced in Spanish.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013, people identifying themselves as Hispanic or Latino within Grays Harbor County account for 9.6 percent of the total population. Within Pacific County, that figure is approximately 8.8 percent. Having recognized the evacuation issues during the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, the Washington State Tsunami Program successfully applied for funding through the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program to create tsunami outreach and preparedness products accessible to non-English speaking coastal populations. The first product of this new series includes tsunami evacuation brochures in Spanish. With funding from the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, and working in close coordination with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and a specialized translation company, the Washington State Tsunami Program successfully produced the first Spanish tsunami evacuation brochures for the Washington’s Pacific Ocean coast.

Maps in both English and Spanish can be downloaded here:

There are maps translated into Spanish for the communities of Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Cosmopolis, Ocean City, Copalis Beach, Pacific Beach, Moclips, Ocean Shores,Westport, Grayland, Bay Center, Long Beach, Ilwaco, Ocean Park, Raymond, South Bend, North Cove, Tokeland and many unincorporated areas.

Anglers, beachcombers asked to watch for transponders from Japan

Some transponders have reportedly been washing up along the WA Coast. The Pacific County Emergency Management Agency reports these floating instruments are about the size of a 2-liter soda bottle and were set in the ocean from different ports off Japan in 2011-12 after the massive Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Researchers from Tattori University for Environmental Studies in Japan have been collaborating with Oregon State University, Oregon Sea Grant, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program on the project.

Persons who find a transponder are asked to photograph it if possible, and report the location of their find to Chan at ; or to the NOAA Marine Debris Program regional coordinator in their area at . They will provide shipping instructions to persons who find the transponders so that the instruments can be returned to the research team.

More information available at:

Kilmer introduces two amendments to defense bill to help veterans looking for jobs and civilian shipyard workers

On Tuesday, Representative Derek Kilmer introduced two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to help servicemembers find jobs and authorize overtime for civilian shipyard workers overseas. The amendments will be considered by the House Rules Committee for inclusion in the NDAA bill set to be debated on the floor this week in the House.


Rep. Kilmer’s amendment on veteran employment – cosponsored by Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs – would encourage companies to hire veterans who are leaving the service, recently left, or have been unemployed or underemployed. It would create a pilot program within the Department of Defense that any business, regardless of size, could participate in. Businesses putting veterans on their payroll would see that factored into their bids for government contracts.


“Many veterans who have sacrificed on our behalf find a tough job market when they leave the armed forces,” said Kilmer. “I want to make sure we don’t forget our obligation to servicemembers. That’s why I’m introducing legislation that provides another reason for businesses interested in federal contracts to hire veterans and give them a chance to succeed in the civilian workforce.”


In 2013, the unemployment rate for veterans was 7.3 percent. Washington state’s 6th District is home to more than 25,000 active duty and reserve service members, along with more than 50,000 veterans and their families. Naval Base Kitsap, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and many other important facilities and vessels are located in the 6th District. Many residents (both civilian and servicemembers) also work at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) – Washington state’s third largest employer.


Rep. Kilmer’s other amendment to the NDAA would authorize overtime payments for shipyard workers who conduct nuclear maintenance on the U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in Japan. Shipyard workers at the Puget Sound Shipyard who volunteer to go overseas will lose the ability to collect overtime from the Navy this September without an extension from Congress.


“Civilian workers at the nation’s shipyards work tirelessly to help keep our naval edge on the seas,” Kilmer continued. “It’s time to ensure that when they go overseas to make needed carrier repairs they get paid the same as they would in the United States. It is not fair for us to ask them to leave their families for four to six months and compensate them less. I hope to see this as part of the National Defense Authorization Act we will discuss on the floor.”


Separately, Representative Kilmer and Representative Cole jointly introduced an amendment to the NDAA to limit the Department’s ability to furlough civilian employees funded through working capital projects when it would not save taxpayers any money.

Invenergy completes purchase of 620 Megawatt power plant in Grays Harbor

Invenergy Development Company, LLC announced the successful refinancing of its 620 MW Grays Harbor Energy Center (“Grays Harbor”), a natural gas-fueled power generation project in Elma, Washington.

The plant began commercial operations in 2008, approximately thirty miles west of Olympia, in Grays Harbor County. The facility consists of two gas-fired GE Frame 7FA combustion turbines and one GE steam turbine generator operating in combined-cycle mode with duct firing.

GE Energy Financial Services – through GE Capital Markets, Inc. acted as Book Runner and Joint Lead Arranger for the transaction. CoBank also served as Joint Lead Arranger. In addition, BNP Paribas and Union Bank are providing financing in connection with this transaction.

Invenergy Development Company LLC is a joint venture between Invenergy Thermal LLC, an affiliate of Invenergy LLC (“Invenergy”), and Stark Investments, a global alternative investment firm.

About Invenergy  –

Invenergy and its affiliated companies develop, own and operate large-scale renewable and other clean energy generation facilities in North America and Europe. Invenergy ( is committed to clean power alternatives and continued innovation in electricity generation. Invenergy’s home office is located in Chicago and it has regional development offices throughout the United States and in Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Europe.

Invenergy and its affiliated companies have developed more than 8,000 MW of clean energy projects that are in operation, in construction, or under contract, including 65 wind, solar, and natural gas power facilities.

Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami Anniversary – The Impact Continues 3 Years Later

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to boost rebuilding efforts as the country marked the third anniversary Tuesday of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 19,000 people dead, destroyed coastal communities and triggered a nuclear crisis.

Tuesday March 11, 2014 marks the 3rd anniversary of the Japanese earthquake & tsunami. Today, Japan is still searching for answers on what to do with the evacuees and the climbing rates of suicide of those affected. Chuck Wallace with the Grays Harbor County Emergency Management Agency says this event COULD happen here. The impacts are unimaginable and ongoing. If the most prepared country in the world still suffers from the tsunami after 3 years, how much of an impact would it present to the U.S.?

Please read the following article from the Japan Times.

As survivors gather to pray for the souls of their relatives and friends at memorial services, some communities have chosen to commemorate the event in advance to avoid the media attention. – Kyodo, Staff Report       March 10, 2014

Japanese Tsunami, 3 Years later
Photo courtesy ABC News, Video available at link


State marine debris hotline going offline at the end of the year

SEATTLE (AP) – State officials say they’re suspending a hotline set up for reporting marine debris because it hasn’t been getting calls.

The hotline was set up so beach-goers and others could report potentially dangerous or tsunami-related marine debris that turned up on Washington’s shorelines.

Officials plan to take the hotline 1-855-WACOAST offline at 5 p.m. Dec. 31.

State official Terry Egan says the state hasn’t had a major marine incident in nearly a year and the overall amount of debris found on beaches has also decreased.

People can still report hazardous marine debris such as gas cans and oil drums to another hotline, 1-800-OILS-911.

Those who find non-hazardous marine debris that is suspected from the 2011 Japan tsunami can email

Pacific County resident honored with top Ecology award

The Task Force – consisting of the state Military Department’s Emergency Management Division (EMD), Ecology and several other state agencies – was created by the Governor’s office to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to coordinate state, federal, tribal and local activities. Volunteer efforts along beaches always have been key to keeping shores clear of marine debris.


Terry Egan, the state’s Marine Debris Task Force lead, said: “Innovative partnerships with everyone, from citizens like Russ to local communities and volunteer groups to state and federal agencies and Tribal governments have been essential in addressing this issue. Russ’ efforts have saved the state thousands of dollars while providing extremely valuable information. It is unlikely state agencies would have been able to monitor conditions along the coast at the same level without his support.”


Sally Toteff, Ecology Southwest Region Director, said: “Russ is an excellent example of how individuals quietly contribute to the extraordinary quality of life of Washington’s coastal communities and elsewhere in our state. Even before the tragic Japan tsunami, Russ and his neighbors were often spending countless hours scouring the Long Beach Peninsula and picking up marine debris, using their own resources. While he’s had noteworthy assistance from various local folks, Russ’ efforts extend well beyond removing debris from beaches. That’s why we are recognizing him with this award of excellence.”


Marine debris has been an ongoing issue for decades, but concerns were elevated after the earthquake and tsunami claimed nearly 20,000 lives, destroyed countless homes and structures and swept 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean. While 70 percent of the debris likely sank near Japan’s shore, the remaining 1.5 million tons of debris dispersed in the ocean.


The Environmental Excellence Award is the Department of Ecology’s highest award for recognizing environmental excellence in the state of Washington. The department issues the award to individuals, businesses, and organizations that have shown leadership, innovation or extraordinary service in protecting, improving, or cleaning up the environment.

Tsunami Debris Information – What To Do if You See Debris

MONTESANO, Wash. – Chuck Wallace, Deputy Director of the Grays Harbor County Emergency Management Agency reccommends the following actions if you see tsunami debris on Washington’s coast.

Stay safe:

Be alert for sharp metal, nails, screws, glass and splintered wood.

** If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it **

Report these to Grays Harbor County Emergency Management at (360) 249-3911 or    




Litter and other typical marine debris items:

Common marine debris types will vary by location. If an object can be linked to the tsunami, please report it to Please provide as much information as possible. Where it’s safe and practical to do so, people should remove the debris and recycle any plastics or metals.


Hazardous materials:

Call 911 immediately !

Examples: Drums, fuel tanks and containers, gas cans, gas cylinders, chemical storage totes

Do not touch or attempt to move the item. Give authorities a detailed report about what you’ve observed.


Derelict boat or other large debris item:

Do not attempt to move or remove the boat.

Report it to the U.S. Coast Guard 24-Hour Command Center, 206-217-6001.


Personal effects or possessions from Japan tsunami:

Items that appear to be personal belongings should be treated with respect. They should be reported with as much relevant detail as possible. Generally, these objects should be left in place for later retrieval. However, if the object appears likely to be moved by tide or wave action and it is safe to do so, consider moving the object above the high-tide line. Report these to Grays Harbor County Emergency Management at (360) 249-3911 or    


Human remains:

It is extremely unlikely any human remains from the tsunami will reach the United States. However, if you encounter any remains, immediately call 911 and give local authorities a detailed report about what you observed.

Do not touch or attempt to move.


For more information on Japan tsunami debris, please visit

To request a shoreline monitoring guide, email  –

Tsunami Debris Information

If hazardous materials wash ashore

It is possible that containers with hazardous materials may wash ashore. Don’t touch these items or try to remove them.

Instead, notify federal and state authorities. Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard will lead response efforts to remove any immediate threats to public health, safety and the environment.

Ecology handles about 3,800 reports of oil spills and hazardous material releases and threats annually – and mounts 1,200 field responses across the state every year.

To make a report, you should call both the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 and Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division (EMD) at 1-800-OILS-911 (1-800-258-5990). Both numbers are answered 24/7.

Getting word out to coastal communities

Since January 2012, representatives from NOAACoast GuardEcologyEMD, and Washington Department of Health have conducted public presentations and taken questions about the most up-to-date tsunami debris information in:

  • La Push
  • Neah Bay
  • Ocean Park
  • Ocean Shores
  • Port Angeles
  • Seaview
  • Taholah
  • Tokeland
  • Westport

Scattered debris likely along Washington outer coast

NOAA data and experience indicate the vision of a massive flotilla of debris headed for U.S. shores is unrealistic. A new NOAA modeling effort shows that some buoyant items may have reached the Pacific Northwest coast during winter 2011-2012. The bulk of the debris is likely still dispersed north of the main Hawaiian Islands and east of Midway Atoll.

Widely scattered debris may arrive intermittently along shorelines in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alaska and California for a sustained period of time. For more information, go to NOAA’s Information and FAQs page.

Many variables affect where the debris will go and when. Items will sink, disperse, and break up along the way, and winds and ocean currents constantly change, making it very difficult to predict an exact date and location for the debris’ arrival on our shores.

NOAA is actively collecting information about tsunami debris at sea and throughout the region. Please report any sightings — with specific location and photographs if possible — to

Debris unlikely to be radioactive

Radiation experts from Washington State Department of Health believe it is highly unlikely any of the tsunami debris is radioactive. Health has continued monitoring for radioactive contamination in our environment since March 16, 2011.

If you have questions about radiation issues related to the earthquake and tsunami, please contact the Department of Health at 360-236-3300, email, or visit their website.

Coastal communities working on tsunami response plan

Local and tribal governments, state and federal agencies and community organizations are forging strategies for responding to tsunami debris that potentially could wash ashore on Washington’s beaches.

This effort is designed to help coastal communities and government entities work together to monitor and clean up shoreline debris and to guide local responses in case large, hazardous or unmanageable debris items need to be removed from coastal beaches.

The draft Washington state tsunami debris response plan will be refined in coming weeks and months.

Human remains unlikely

There is little chance human remains from Japan will arrive with the debris. However, if you do see something that concerns you, immediately call 9-1-1.

For More Information:

Printable cards: Contact Information (

Flier: What to do if you see debris (

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program (

NOAA Frequently Asked Questions (

ECOconnect blog: NOAA has best information about Japanese tsunami debris (

Ecology News Release: Statewide workshop focuses on tsunami debris response (4/25/2012)