In social media terminology, where hashtags (the # symbol) help make terms searchable, that’s the word of the day after the lower Kenai Peninsula survived a magnitude 7.9 earthquake and the first, real, no-kidding blare of our high-tech tsunami warning system. Sleep-deprived Homerites guzzled coffee and shared their experiences on Tuesday. To sum it up:
• At 12:31 a.m. as we either dozed off to dreamland or had already fallen asleep, a really, really big quake that seemed to roll on for hours pretty much shot any chance of getting a good night’s rest.
• Within minutes, those flying-saucer shaped sirens went off, and a robotic voice advised those in low-lying areas to seek higher ground.
• Our colleagues at KBBI AM 890 Public Radio went on the air and also issued a tsunami warning. General Manager Terry Rensel and News Director Aaron Bolton stayed through the early morning providing accurate, timely information. Terry and Aaron, hat’s off to you for providing a valuable service rooted in early 20th century technology.
• Smart phone push notifications and robocalls went out warning of the tsunami. Some of those alerts were not necessarily timely.
• Citizens went to high ground in an orderly, cautious manner. As Homer City Manager Katie Koester said, “I was really impressed mostly by the community — how cooperative and responsible they were.”
• Some people drove their vehicles to Homer High School, road turnouts and South Peninsula Hospital. At the high school, the official evacuation site, people waited patiently for the all-clear. While people appeared concerned, everyone stoically hung together.
• Officials from the city to the U.S. Coast Guard to the hospital implemented emergency plans and got ready for the worst. Public Works drivers moved heavy equipment from the vulnerable area at the yard off the Sterling Highway to the high school.
•#Whew. The worst did not happen. No one was injured. No one died. The only report of damage was a broken water line — fortunately, one of two the city uses to get water from the reservoir to the treatment plant.
Call it the grace of God, good planning or civic preparedness — by the time the tsunami warning had been downgraded to an advisory, other than some lost sleep, we emerged the way we want to in disasters: alive.
In the days and weeks after, officials will be reviewing their response to see how it can be made better. One first lesson: those high-tech robo calls didn’t work as advertised, with some residents receiving them after the predicted time the tsunami was to hit. Federal, state and borough officials, and telecom providers need to work out the kinks if they’re going to go boldly into the 21st century. A lot of people rely on smart phones for information. Provide it.
What did work is technology like AM radio. That’s a good reason to support KBBI. They can provide information quickly and widely and in the same way President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill kept Americans and Brits informed during World War II. If you don’t have a radio, get one.
Also refresh your own family emergency plan. Put together your “go bag.” Visit the Division of Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness page for information at https://ready.alaska.gov/Preparedness/Outreach/Eqprep.
#Whew. This will be the quake Homer talks about for years and the standard by which we measure our emergency response. You did well, citizens. Vow to do better when the next Big One hits.