Special Report: Officials plan public awareness campaign

December 08, 2006 11:00 pm

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Emergency responders, local officials and tsunami forecasters and researchers worry that because the last two tsunamis caused no fatalities, Crescent City residents may have grown a little complacent.

That may be partially true. But findings from a state seismic commission indicate other causes may be fostering complacency. A study released about a year ago by the commission's Tsunami Safety Committee found gaps in official communication protocols, tsunami education programs building codes and other areas statewide.

It's human nature that interest in a tsunami peaks following the event but dwindles quickly after.

It's called a window of opportunity, and it's probably already closed as the holiday season unfolds.

During the coming year, however, Del Norte County Office of Emergency Services point person Allen Winogradov and Troy Nicolini, who heads the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group, have big plans.

Their strategy includes more public service announcements broadcast on local radio and television stations in both Del Norte and Humboldt counties.

"We want people to turn to the news media to find out what's going on," Winogradov said.

Local residents' response to the Nov. 15 tsunami indicate some local residents don't fully appreciate the danger while others are confused about what to do.

During the Nov. 15 tsunami Bank of America in the downtown area closed its doors and sent employees home. Rural Human Services sent staff home about one hour early.

Other residents drove to the harbor area to get a first-hand look at what were then rumored to be 17-foot waves.

The Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean demonstrated aptly how well people can outrun the waves a tsunami sends crashing to shore.

Charged with saving lives the National Weather Service plans to dig into public education for the long haul.

"We're going to keep it up, we have faith," said Nicolini. "Allen (Winogradov) is working on a county plan that will include the fire departments and roadblocks. We'll use a combination of education and force."

There has been some work done to spread the word about tsunamis. Winogradov has been to HeadStart about six times in three years, and a few classrooms have asked for guest speakers on the matter.

But the Nov. 15 tsunami could be the catalyst that makes the difference in public education, said Lori Dengler, chairwoman of the Humboldt State University Geology department and tsunami expert.

"The issue is getting people to respond," Dengler said. "We have to put as much investment in humans, as much money as (in our) sensors and modeling, because we have the misperception that technology will save us."