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article imagePosted Tsunami Warning Signs Battered by People, Not Waves

By Sandy Sand     Apr 12, 2009 in Science
Tsunamis hitting the west coast of the U.S. are rare, but they happen. To prepare, coastal cities from Washington to California have been preparing residents for the possibility by posting signs. Rather than heeding them, they’ve been vandalizing them.
The blue and white signs say “TSUNAMI HAZARD ZONE" and have an image of ominous looking waves along with directions to evacuations routes.
As of now the signs are experimental, said Don Howe, a senior transportation engineer with the California Department of Transportation, and the department is collecting feedback.
In Humboldt County, south of the Oregon border, authorities said that last year about five percent of the 400 posted signs had been vandalized, damaged or stolen, but no arrests have been made.
As the AP reports:
"It's tapering off," said Brenda Godsey, a spokeswoman with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, said of the sign tampering. "The novelty of the signs is waning."
Tsunami warning signs have already gone up in parts of Orange County in Southern California and parts of Northern California where the danger is the greatest.
As of now, beachfront cities are responsible for obtaining their own funding for tsunami warning signs, but are hoping to get federal grant money for this first step in preparing for a potential tsunami disaster.
As the AP reports:
Richard Deppisch, the city's emergency preparedness coordinator, said that last year Los Angeles spent about $8,000 to post 60 signs in Venice, Pacific Palisades Los Angeles International Airport, and plans to use $350,000 in federal grants to put up more signs, possibly as early as this summer. "It's for public safety. The more people know about it, the better they're prepared for an emergency," Deppisch said.
Costas Synolakis, a tsunami expert with the University of Southern California, said:
As the AP reports:
"A large local tsunami hitting on a summer afternoon with hundreds of thousands of people on Southern California beaches could cause Thailand-like devastation. This is why we rely on the signs."
Many beachgoers are saying that without an integrated system of signs and sirens as they have in Hawaii, the signs alone are useless.
As the AP reports:
"If it happens at night, no one is going to be on the beach to say, `Run away,"' said E. Grant Hardacre, a lawyer and surfer.
Currently, Los Angeles County is considering posting signs in unincorporated areas. They do broadcast emergencies on radio and television, but some feel that won’t reach enough people in a timely manner.
While Los Angeles County has studied the use of sirens for natural disasters, such as for earthquakes and tsunamis, they have no plans to activate them, said Jeff Terry, L.A. county's tsunami coordinator.
As building along coast areas increases along with the population inhabiting them, concern is building over the dangers of tsunamis, even if they are rare along the West Coast.
Since 1812, 14 tsunamis with waves higher than three feet have been observed along the California coast, but only six were destructive.
The deadliest occurred in 1964 when a magnitude 9.2 quake in Alaska spawned tsunami waves that killed 12 people in Northern California.
That same Alaskan-generated tsunami killed four campers in Oregon, who were crushed by logs carried by the rise in water from the advancing tsunami waves.
A study by the California Seismic Safety Commission in 2005, showed that a tsunami generated by a large off shore quake would threaten one million or more people living along the western coast line, as well as the country’s largest port system.
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