City, volunteers help prepare for emergencies

USC engineers say Newport Beach waterfront areas less than 32 feet high are susceptible to tsunami 'run up.'

March 18, 2011|By Mike Reicher,

With a number of close calls from distant tsunamis, and a branch of the Newport-Inglewood fault about one mile offshore, the city of Newport Beach has spent the last several years preparing for tidal waves.

Officials have created an evacuation plan for low-lying areas, installed sirens along the coast and coordinated with Newport Elementary School on the Balboa Peninsula, in case waves come during school hours.

To teach residents about the dangers, they've tried posting information online and on signs, by printing brochures and offering courses through its Community Emergency Response Team.


"It's on a lot of peoples' minds, and we've been getting a lot of calls," said Katie Eing, emergency services coordinator for the Newport Beach Fire Department.

Based on predictions from USC engineers, Newport Beach areas near the water that are less than 32 feet high would be susceptible to a tsunami "run up." That's the surge of water that engulfs land, like the one that swept across parts of Japan and has been replayed on cable news shows over the past week.

"Newport Beach is extremely vulnerable because it's extremely flat," said Costas Synolakis, a professor at the USC Tsunami Research Center.

The areas at risk include the Balboa Peninsula, the harbor's islands and bayfront locales, West Newport Beach, some parts of Corona del Mar and parts of the Back Bay shoreline.

About 40,000 people live in those areas, Eing said.

Many of them tried to flee the Balboa Peninsula in 2005 when a 7.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Northern California. Officials issued a tsunami warning, more serious than the advisory sent out March 11.

Today, based in part on the 2005 event, officials anticipate congestion on the Peninsula, with people trying to leave in cars. They've modified evacuation procedure, Eing said, and would now keep all the lights green for outbound lanes.

If there's a warning issued by the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, Newport Beach police officials would sound the city's three new emergency sirens along the coast. The goal of the sirens, along with other emergency notification systems, is to get people to turn on their televisions or radio for more information.

"It doesn't necessarily mean run for hills," Eing said.

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