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Governor Gregoire announces steps to improve state's tsunami preparedness

For Immediate Release: August 8, 2005

Governor calls on local, state, federal and tribal governments to work together to increase preparedness

OLYMPIA – Aug. 8, 2005 – Gov. Christine Gregoire today announced plans designed to improve the state’s tsunami preparedness and mitigate the effects of a large tsunami wave on public health and safety. The governor, along with Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg, director of the state’s military department, and Grays Harbor County Commissioner Al Carter, made the announcement at a press conference at Ocean Shores, Wash.

“Our state has long been a leader in tsunami preparedness, but we must do more,” said Gregoire. “The time between an offshore earthquake and the potential arrival of large tsunami waves could be very short. We need every possible minute to warn the public so they can move to safe ground.”

On June 14, an earthquake off the coast of California caused a tsunami warning to be issued for the West Coast, including the coastal areas of Washington state. The quake did not cause a damaging tsunami wave, so the warning was canceled a little over an hour later.

“This warning was a sharp reminder that ocean buoys located near Hawaii may not provide enough time for people to move to safety when an earthquake near the West Coast triggers a tsunami,” said Gregoire.

Washington is ranked second behind California in terms of potential economic loss due to earthquakes and tsunamis. The governor’s plan includes six key points critical to tsunami preparedness in the state. Those steps include:

- Improving our detection network. The governor pledged to work with the state’s Congressional delegation to support a significant new tsunami detection and warning program. The governor will seek assurances that the necessary buoys and detection equipment are adequately funded and properly located to warn of the tsunami risks along our coast.

- Asking the Legislature for funding to accelerate the construction and installation of local tsunami warning systems, and asking federal agencies to match or exceed the state’s contribution. Funding requests will also include all weather radios for schools and public facilities along the coast. This local broadcast network will supplement the federal system by ensuring that the word of an oncoming tsunami gets out quickly.

- Ensuring that all levels of government come together in a unified response. The governor has asked the state’s Emergency Management Division to secure agreements between local, state, federal and tribal governments to provide a consistent tsunami warning and response.

- Improving public education and awareness through the Emergency Management Division by developing a sustained education campaign that will significantly increase the readiness of both children and adults to respond properly in the event of a tsunami warning. The governor will also ask that public education be a significant feature of the new federal tsunami program.

- Improving tsunami evacuation routes by establishing a complete geological map of the roads to determine what road improvements must be made in order that the public will be able to move quickly and safely to higher ground. While the state currently has “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs posted along highways in vulnerable areas, the governor asked the Emergency Management Division to improve the public’s ability to evacuate safely along these roads by working with local jurisdictions, public land managers and owners of private roads to encourage agreements that allow for emergency access to safe, higher ground. The governor pledged to ask for legislation during the 2006 legislative session to provide access while protecting landowners if necessary.

- Improving building standards in high risk, low-elevation areas. In some coastal areas, the roads may be damaged by the quake before the waves arrive, requiring people to take refuge in or on buildings that can withstand both the quake and the tsunami waves.

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