In response to concerns from local citizens, North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) has begun distributing flyers with information on tsunami readiness to Birch Bay and Blaine.
Coastal cities run a high risk of being struck by a tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake. While Birch Bay and Blaine have not experienced any recent activity, some locals have expressed the need for readiness nonetheless.
“Most of the folks we talk to who live by the water say they know there is a risk, and they’re reminded each year by tidal flooding events and their insurance rates, but they really haven’t done anything to prepare or educate themselves further,” said Kent Catlin, deputy director of the Whatcom County Division of Emergency Management. “Our big challenge is to keep reminding folks of the risk and encourage them to make a plan.”
In response, Catlin’s department and NWFR have begun distributing maps and flyers to local businesses. These flyers
provide detailed information regarding tsunami activities and advice on how to respond in the event of a tsunami occurring.
Catlin’s office began distributing the flyers in late July, leaving them with the Blaine Police Department, Semiahmoo Resort and Semiahmoo Marina, but since the division of emergency management consists of only three people, employees only have a few spare hours each month to spread the flyers around.
NWFR chief Ron Anderson is picking up some of the slack, and has tasked his firefighters with hand-delivering nearly 1,500 flyers to local businesses, condos and restaurants over the next few weeks.
Additionally, Birch Bay resident Kathy Berg has organized a group of concerned citizens to help distribute the flyers and encourage local business to keep them on hand. Berg is also reaching out to the Birch Bay and Blaine chambers of commerce to request that they post a digital version on their websites.
The county has also commissioned a number of warning signs from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The Whatcom County Public Works Department will be deciding when and where to put up the signage over the next several weeks.
Tsunami activity in Blaine and Birch Bay is exceedingly rare, but it has happened in the past. In 1964, a massive earthquake in Alaska, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, triggered a tsunami that sent devastating waves all along the coast of Canada, Hawaii and the western United States. The earthquake produced waves measuring over 200 feet tall, and claimed the lives of 125 people in Alaska and an additional 15 people in the western U.S.
According to the Washington State Department of Ecology’s website, “great earthquakes (magnitude 8 to 9) and tsunamis have repeatedly rocked the Pacific Northwest. Catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis have occurred along Washington’s coast at least six times in the past 7,000 years, about every 300 to 600 years. There is a good chance that another earthquake will occur offshore within the next 100 years.”
To learn more about tsunami readiness, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami website at tsunamiready.noaa.gov.