Should a great earthquake occur along the Cascadia subduction zone, Bellingham residents theoretically may have only an hour and a half to prepare before an 18-foot-high wall of water from a resulting tsunami arrives, according to a study released in July by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Birch Bay likely would have a few minutes longer, but it goes without saying that every second counts. Fortunately, residents in that area of Whatcom County now should be able to make the most of whatever time they have before a tsunami strikes and seek safety.
The funding for the siren came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service Tsunami Activities Grant. The federal grant, which totaled $725,822, according to a press release, will help bolster tsunami preparedness along the Washington state coastline with new sirens, evacuation route signs and improved modeling and animations to give the public a better idea of where a tsunami could hit.
“This funding will increase the number of sirens between the outer coast and the northern Puget Sound up to 74,” said Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager for emergency management. “We’re grateful for the federal funding and the partnerships with counties and tribes that continue to help support our tsunami alerting capabilities.”
The installation of the siren in Birch Bay brought the total in the region to 72, the release said, with the locations for the two remaining sirens still to be determined.
The funding also will provide modeling to create pedestrian evacuation maps in the northern Puget Sound region, incorporating geological data, such as liquefaction and landslides.
At 10:18 a.m. Oct. 18, all tsunami sirens, including the new one in Birch Bay, will sound as part of the Great Washington ShakeOut. Though just a test, the event is a great opportunity to learn and practice evacuation drills.