More than two dozen people made their way to Jade Street Community Center in Capitola on Tuesday night for the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency’s third informational meeting on tsunami basics.
Those on hand heard talks from speakers Rick Wilson, a geologist from the California Geological Survey, and Tom Evans, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Laurie Lang, health educator for Santa Cruz County Health Services, opened the event.
“These meetings were planned before the Japan tsunami,” she said. “At that time, we were expecting about five to 10 people per meeting.”
In the wake of that disaster, Santa Cruz County residents have responded by getting informed, as was made clear by the turnout on Tuesday.
Wilson explained the basics of how tsunamis work. Tsunamis start by either an underwater earthquake at a subduction zone, or an underwater landslide in the ocean, which starts a surge of water that moves through the ocean, he said. A tsunami comes either immediately after an earthquake in the same place, or travels through the ocean to the nearest shore.
If the tsunami starts farther away, people will have several hours to move to safety, but if the earthquake and tsunami occur in the same place, people have only seven to 15 minutes to get out of the submersion zone, he said.
“Mother Nature [can sometimes be] your only warning,” Wilson explained. “If you feel a long earthquake, or a short and very strong one, you see the water rushing far out to sea, or you hear rushing water, get to higher ground.”
It’s not all guesswork, though. Groups like those that the speakers represent have long studied the positioning and potential effects of tsunamis.
“The weather service has the information to make forecasts and warnings,” Evans said, explaining that accurate predictions can and have been made regarding which coastal areas will be affected by a tsunami.
After the speakers finished, Paul Horvat, manager of the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center, fielded questions along with Evans and Wilson. Horvat suggested that residents stay updated on emergency proceedings by dialing 211, an emergency information line, and by registering cellphones with the reverse 911 system, by visiting scr911.org.
Audience member Kate Minott, a resident of Seacliff and a trained member of Seacliff’s Community Emergency Response Team, said she attended the meeting to further her emergency response education.
“When a larger earthquake happens elsewhere, Santa Cruz County is not going to be high on the list of first [emergency] responders,” she explained. “We need to be self-reliant.”
Lang supported Minott’s claim, championing autonomy in times of emergency.
“The main thing we want people to take away is that common sense is your best ally,” Lang said. “If you’re at the beach and you feel an earthquake for 20 seconds, leave the beach and go to higher ground.”
For anyone who missed the meeting on Tuesday, upcoming meeting on the dates below will cover the same material.
• April 20, Live Oak
• May 4, Watsonville, with simultaneous Spanish translation
• May 21, Pajaro Dunes