56 years ago, the ‘Good Friday’ earthquake rocked the Gulf of Alaska, causing a major tsunami to roll across the Pacific Ring of Fire on the evening of 27 March 1964. Few in Tofino were aware of the magnitude 9.2 earthquake or the alerts being sent by the US tsunami warning centre. Three and a half hours after the shaking, a series of tsunami waves swept over beaches and strong currents scoured the Pacific northwest coastline (Figure 1). Being early springtime and late at night in a sparsely populated Tofino, the area suffered no fatalities or injuries and only minor damage was reported. The event was a wake-up call for a risk that was not well understood nor well prepared for.
Today Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) is helping to build resilience in Tofino—and elsewhere in British Columbia—by integrating the latest science and technology into tsunami planning efforts and improving awareness of the risk. Local leaders are partnering with scientists, engineers and tsunami experts to integrate local hazard models, community risk assessments, and tsunami mitigation best practices, to prepare for the next big one. Tofino’s Tsunami Mitigation Plan outlines actionable strategies for decreasing the risks associated with this threat. As a direct result, Tofino has improved understanding of the tsunami risk and what to do to better prepare (Figure 2).
The future is in real-time. In our highly connected world, tsunami information can be rapidly disseminated across a broad range of communication technologies. For example, technological advances include using high frequency radar to continuously monitor ocean surface levels. Coastal radar, including the WERA radar located at Tofino’s Long Beach Airport, delivers real-time ocean wave height data that can be used for tsunami response decisions and situational awareness (Figure 3).
On a broad scale, ONC uses real-time observations of earthquake shaking and tsunami wave heights to support official tsunami alerts and better monitor the tsunami threat. ONC’s Applied Science team uses detailed digital elevation maps and runs tsunami models on high powered computers which inform plans for future tsunamis. Public education on the science of tsunami and public safety best practices support an awareness of the risk and helps people take action to decrease their level of risk. Together, we are moving resilience forward.
Taking appropriate action is key, which is why ONC supports earthquake and tsunami preparedness education and training such as the High Ground Hike tsunami preparedness initiative, Masters of Disasters education program and Great BC ShakeOut earthquake drill.
In a disaster, we’re all in it together. What we do today will influence the outcomes of our next major tsunami event. At ONC, we are doing our part to help coastal communities prepare and become more resilient.