Federal grant could help Whatcom County residents prepare for a possible tsunami

In August, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources released a video map simulation showing what a tsunami caused by a Cascadia earthquake might look like in Bellingham. Almost a year earlier, the DNR released inundation maps showing how big a tsunami would be area and how quickly it could reach Bellingham Bay.

But the rest of Whatcom County was left out.

Thanks in part to a new federal grant to the Washington Emergency Management Division earlier this month, more maps and simulations for Whatcom County could soon be on the way.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service awarded the $870,752 grant, according to a Sept. 18 blog post by the Washington Military Department.

Among other things, the post said that the grant will support:

New animated tsunami simulations to focus on the port of Bellingham, Anacortes and Southwest Washington.

New inundation and current velocity maps for northern Whatcom County and Hood Canal, areas for which maps have not yet been published.

A Maritime Mitigation and Response Strategy for the port of Bellingham.

Though Whatcom County will benefit from the new grant, one of its primary purposes, according to the post, is to upgrade the state’s tsunami sirens with better satellite capability and connectivity.

There are 76 all-hazard alert broadcast warning sirens along Washington’s coast, according to the post, and the satellite upgrades will allow the state to know when batteries need to be replaced and improve remote maintenance of the devices.

“Having these sirens connected to satellites means we’ll have a safer coast and more control over any maintenance issues that might come up,” EMD tsunami program coordinator Elyssa Tappero said in the post.

The grant also will fund analysis of how many evacuation towers would be we needed along the coast, where tsunamis would strike fastest after a major quake.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.