The coastal tsunami warning system is getting some upgrades thanks to a federal grant that will also pay for new tsunami animation, more maps, and signs. The $870,752 Tsunami Activities Grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service will also help with public education, outreach, and better modeling to get residents prepared for tsunamis.

The Washington State Military Department reports that the state’s tsunami sirens will be upgraded with better satellite capability and connectivity under a new federal grant awarded to the Washington Emergency Management Division this month.

There are currently 76 All Hazard Alert Broadcast warning sirens on the coast. The new satellite upgrades will help the state know when batteries need to be replaced and improve remote maintenance of the devices. The funding also purchases one year of satellite time for daily status testing, monthly audio tests, emergency activations and tsunami evacuation exercises and drills.

“Having these sirens connected to satellites means we’ll have a safer coast and more control over any maintenance issues that might come up,” said Elyssa Tappero, the tsunami program coordinator for EMD.

Grant funds will also go toward a gap analysis to see how many vertical evacuation structures would be needed on the coast of Washington. In the face of a tsunami originating from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, some parts of the coast may have fewer than 20 minutes to evacuate. Tsunami vertical evacuation structures would be a way to save lives. One such structure exists above a gym at Ocosta Elementary. Another tower will be constructed next year in Tokeland by the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe.

A potential new tower on the Long Beach Peninsula is being designed and work is underway on potential towers in Aberdeen, Westport and Ocean Shores.

“We know we have a long way to go, but we need to understand just how far, and lawmakers need to have this information, too, when they make decisions on funding and priorities,” said EMD’s Geologic Hazards Program Supervisor Maximilian Dixon.

The grant also supports:

  • New animated tsunami simulations created by scientists at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Animations were released in August showing the entire Washington coast as well as detailed views in Bellingham and the San Juan Islands. The new animations will focus on the Port of Bellingham, Anacortes and Southwest Washington.
  • New inundation and current velocity maps created for the Hood Canal and northern Whatcom County, areas where maps are not currently published. 
  • A Maritime Mitigation and Response Strategy for the Port of Bellingham, and education and outreach focused on maritime and inner coast stakeholders.
  • New tsunami signs, training for NOAA Weather Radio use and more outreach preparedness events on the coast.

The Great Washington ShakeOut is Oct. 17. And we have a video contest for teens to win prizes if they do a short video about earthquake preparedness. More information at mil.wa.gov/earthquake