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FEMA Data Digest: Tsunami Safety

February 2022

To learn more about research at FEMA, please visit: https://www.ready.gov/preparedness-research.

Have questions about this data? Contact FEMA at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov.

Use the FEMA Data Digest

Help us to build a culture of preparedness by using the FEMA Data Digest to inform your work!

FEMA publishes Data Digests to share important findings from its preparedness research, like the annual National Household Survey (NHS). Our goal is to provide you with relevant insights, graphics, data, messages, and helpful links that you can use to engage with your community. Below, we’ve identified:

  • Data-Driven Key Messages for the preparedness community to use
  • Calls to Action for people and communities to take preparedness actions
  • Helpful Links to free preparedness publications, research, and tools

We invite you to use the information below, share the graphics, and incorporate these resources into your tsunami-related publications, social media posts, or stakeholder outreach.

Drive Your Outreach with Data!

  • Key Message 1: Less than half of people who lived in tsunami-prone areas recognized the potential risk that a tsunami posed to them.
  • Only 48% of people who lived in a tsunami-prone area thought that a tsunami could impact them.
  • Only 15% of people living in a tsunami-prone area in the United States have experienced a tsunami.
  • Key Message 2: About three out of four people (73%) who lived in tsunami-prone areas had low preparedness efficacy. Of people who lived in tsunami-prone areas:
  • 72% reported they were not prepared for the possibility of a tsunami;
  • 37% indicated they did not intend to prepare within the next year;
  • 55% had not taken any preparedness actions in the past year.
  • Key Message 3: People living in tsunami-prone areas need more information about how to prepare, how to recognize warning signs, and how to protect themselves during a tsunami. The 2021 NHS found that, of people who lived in tsunami-prone areas:
  • Only 39% of people had read, seen, or heard information about getting better prepared.
  • Only 23% of people correctly recognized all three warning signs for a tsunami.
  • Only 40% of people correctly identified the protective they should take if the building they were in started to shake.

Start the Conversation with Your Community


Did You Know?

  • A tsunami is a series of enormous ocean waves caused by earthquakes, underwater landslides, volcanic eruptions, or asteroids.
  • Tsunamis can:
  • Occur with little to no warning, can kill or injure people, and they can damage or destroy buildings as waves come in and go out.
  • Happen anywhere along U.S. coasts; coasts that border the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean have the greatest risk.
  • Cause flooding and create problems with transportation, power, communications, and drinking water.

Use FEMA’s National Risk Index Map to learn more about where tsunamis happen.



A Tsunami Survivor’s Story

Dwayne, a Hawaii resident, survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. “’I noticed right away that there was a white line along the horizon. It did not look really big, but I knew it was. I knew it was a tsunami right away…The next thing I know I am underwater, spinning around, spinning around sideways and flipping over. Everything is happening really quickly.’ Dwayne was transported inland by the water and then out to sea, travelling at least a mile.

With debris all around him, Dwayne swam as quickly as he could toward shore. When he reached the beach, he saw the water receding again. He moved inland and advised others to follow. Soon a group had formed and made it safely to higher ground. ‘There were maybe 20 survivors and everyone was talking about someone else who was missing.’ Dwayne spent that day rendering first aid to those in need. He was finally taken to a hospital to receive treatment for his own injuries.” (Source: Pacific Tsunami Museum)


Tsunamis are Deadly!

  • Since the 19th century, tsunamis have killed more than 700 people in the United States (Source: National Weather Service).
  • Globally, between 1998 and 2017, tsunamis have caused more than 250,000 deaths; more than 227,000 people lost their lives because of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Source: World Health Organization).



Key Message #1:


Less than half of people who lived in tsunami-prone areas recognized the potential risk that a tsunami posed to them.


  • Only 48% of people who lived in a tsunami-prone area thought that a tsunami could impact them.
  • Only 15% of people living in a tsunami-prone area in the United States have experienced a tsunami.


Percentage of people who believed (48%) and did not believe (52%) that a tsunami could impact them.

To download this graphic, right click and Save

Figure 1. Percentage of People Who Believe that a Tsunami Could Impact Them


Call Individuals to Action


Learn About Your Risk for a Tsunami!

If you or loved ones live or visit a location near water…

People at the beach on a calm, sunny day. Ocean waves are calm.

To download this graphic, visit the National Weather Service “Rip Current Photos” page.

Figure 2. “Rips on the North Carolina Coast” by the Carolina Beach Police Department


…take steps to prepare now to stay safe before, during, and after a tsunami!

 A coastal location after being hit by a tsunami. Houses are destroyed and the area has been flooded.

                            To download this graphic, right click and Save” page.

Figure 3. Coastal Location After Experiencing a Tsunami

(Source: Ready.gov/kids/disaster-facts/tsunamis)



Help Your Community to Prepare


Know Your Risk!

“[T]sunamis that cause damage or deaths near their source occur approximately twice per year. Tsunamis that cause damage or deaths on distant shores (more than 1,000 kilometers, 620 miles, away) occur about twice per decade.” (Source: NOAA/National Weather Service).



Engage With Your Community


Does Your Community Understand the Risks of a Tsunami?

Scientists cannot predict when and where the next tsunami will happen.

  • Do the members of your community know their risk in case of a no-notice event?
  • Have you worked with people in your community that have access and functional needs, who are 65 or older, or who have small children or pets to make sure that they are prepared for a tsunami?
  • Have you shared tsunami safety information with your community in case they travel to a tsunami-prone area for work or play?



Key Message #2:


About three out of four people (73%) who lived in tsunami-prone areas had low preparedness efficacy*.



A pie chart showing 27% of people believe that preparing can help in a tsunami AND are confident in their abilities to prepare, 73% do not believe that preparing can help in a tsunami OR are not confident in their abilities to prepare, or BOTH

To download this graphic, right click and Save

*Preparation efficacy is calculated using a combination of measurements for how confident a person is that they can prepare and their belief that preparing will help them get through a tsunami.

Figure 4. Perceived Efficacy for Tsunami Preparedness



Of people who lived in tsunami-prone areas:

  • 72% reported they were not prepared for the possibility of a tsunami;
  • 37% indicated they did not intend to prepare within the next year;
  • 55% had not taken any preparedness actions in the past year.


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List of 4 ways to prepare for a tsunami: know evacuation routes, have a plan, sign up for alerts & warnings, get insurance.

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Figure 5. Four Ways to Prepare for a Tsunami


Help Your Community to Prepare


Help Increase the Confidence of Your Community Members

If you serve a tsunami-prone community, help educate community members and visitors by:



Engage with Your Community


Consider the Diverse Needs of Your Community

  • Every community has unique needs.
  • Do your tsunami plans and messaging include how to help people with access and functional needs to stay safe?
  • Do you have messaging to help youth to prepare for a tsunami?
  • Do you have messaging in other languages, such as Spanish, to help people with limited English proficiency (LEP)?
  • Need help deciding which languages to translate? Visit LEP.gov and use the Language Map App to learn more about what languages are spoken in your community.


Call Individuals to Action


Consider Overlapping Hazards!

After a tsunami, there may be flooding or power outages. Consider how preparing for these hazards could help you during a tsunami.

Learn your evacuation route. Know where to go during a tsunami or during flooding.

Sign up for alerts and warnings.

Create a family emergency communication plan. Plan how to contact your loved ones if the power is out.

Turn Around. Don’t Drown®. Do not drive through floodwaters.



Call Individuals to Action


A Few Simple Steps Can Increase Your Preparedness for a Tsunami

  • If you live in or plan to visit a coastal area:
  • Learn your risk by getting a map of the area.
  • Search FEMA.gov to find the local emergency management office, which may have maps, information about risk, and community emergency plans.
  • Search the ZIP Code on FEMA’s National Risk Index map to see whether tsunamis are a risk.
  • Visit a Chamber of Commerce or Welcome Center and request local maps that have evacuation routes and flood zones.
  • Learn the signs of a potential tsunami. Signs may include:
  • An earthquake,
  • A loud roar from the ocean,
  • Unusual ocean behavior, such as a sudden rise or wall of water or sudden draining of water resulting in the ocean floor showing, or
  • A combination of an earthquake, loud ocean roar, or unusual ocean behavior.
  • Know and practice community evacuation plans and map out your routes from home, work, and play. Pick shelters 100 feet or more above sea level or at least one mile inland.
  • Remember to follow instructions from local officials.
  • Be ready to evacuate immediately if told to do so, or if you see natural signs of a tsunami.
  • Create a family emergency communication plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated.
  • Plan how you will communicate if the power is out.
  • Download or order a family emergency communications plan.
  • Get extra copies of the family emergency communications plan for your guests so that they can prepare, too!
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system and enable Wireless Emergency Alerts on your phone.
  • Learn the difference between a tsunami watch and warning.
  • A tsunami watch tells you to be prepared! A series of dangerous and powerful waves and strong currents that may cause flooding to occur is possible.
  • A tsunami warning tells you to take action! A series of dangerous and powerful waves and strong currents that may cause flooding is expected or occurring.
  • Consider earthquake insurance and flood insurance.
  • A tsunami may be caused by an earthquake.
  • A tsunami may cause flooding to occur.



Key Message #3


People living in tsunami-prone areas need more information about how to prepare, how to recognize warning signs, and how to protect themselves during a tsunami.



The 2021 NHS found that, of people who lived in tsunami-prone areas:

  • Only 39% of people had read, seen, or heard information about getting better prepared.
  • Only 23% of people correctly recognized all three warning signs for a tsunami.
  • Only 40% of people correctly identified the protective action they should take if the building they were in started to shake.


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Three examples for preparing for a tsunami: reading, getting alerts, and talking about evacuation routes

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Figure 6. Three Ways to Get Prepared for a Tsunami


Call Individuals to Action


Know the Warning Signs for a Tsunami!

If you visit a location near an ocean (for work or play) in the United States or abroad, learn the tsunami warning signs and how to prepare for, keep safe during, and recover from one.

Learn more on FEMA’s Protective Actions Research site and ready.gov/tsunamis.



Save and Share This Graphic

Tsunami warning signs: earthquake, quickly receding water, noise that sounds like a loud roar.

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Figure 7. Tsunami Warning Signs


Call Individuals to Action


Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

If you are in a tsunami area and there is an earthquake: Drop, cover, and hold on! When the shaking stops, if there is a tsunami warning — either natural signs or an official warning — move immediately to a safe place as high and far inland as possible.


Pay attention to authorities, but do not wait for tsunami warnings and evacuation orders.



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How to protect yourself during earthquakes using a cane, walker, wheelchair, or no assistance. Drop/lock, cover, and hold on.

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Figure 8. How to Protect Yourself During an Earthquake


NHS Information

2021 NHS Key Findings

Since 2013, FEMA has measured preparedness attitudes and behaviors annually in the nationally representative National Household Survey.  59% have pursued 3 or more of 12 basic preparedness actions; 44% have saved for a rainy day.

* Data obtained from the 2021 NHS

NHS Questions that Informed Key Messages

These questions were asked to people that live in the top 50 counties in the United States that were identified as having the highest risk for tsunami.

The following question was asked of NHS survey respondents. Their responses informed Key Message #1:

  • Thinking about the area you live in, how likely would it be for a tsunami to impact you?

The following questions were asked of NHS survey respondents. Their responses informed Key Message #2:

  • Thinking about preparing yourself for a tsunami, which of the following best represents your degree of preparedness?
  • What have you done to prepare for a tsunami in the last year?
  • In the past year, have you read, seen, or heard any information about how to get better prepared for a tsunami?
  • Have you or your family ever experienced the impacts of a tsunami?
  • How much would taking steps to prepare help you get through a tsunami in your area? How confident are you that you can take steps to prepare for a tsunami in your area?
  • Thinking about the area you live in, how likely would it be for a tsunami to impact you?

The following questions were asked of NHS survey respondents. Their responses informed Key Message #3.

  • In the past year, have you read, seen, or heard any information about how to get better prepared for a tsunami?
  • What are the warning signs of a tsunami?
  • What is the best action to take to protect yourself if the building you are in starts to shake?

NHS Data Tables

Preparedness Actions

Table 1: Preparedness Actions – Tsunami

Question

Response

2021

What have you done to prepare for a tsunami in the last year?

(Respondents could select all that apply)

Assemble or update supplies

10%

Document and insure property

8%

Get involved in community

8%

Know evacuation routes

18%

Make a plan

22%

Make your home safer

13%

Plan with neighbors

5%

Practice emergency drills or habits

9%

Safeguard documents

12%

Save for a rainy day

14%

Sign up for alerts and warnings

21%

Test family communication plan

10%

None

55%

Table 2: Taking Multiple Preparedness Actions – Tsunami

Question

Response

2021

What have you done to prepare for a tsunami in the last year?

(Respondents could select all that apply.)

Taking at least 1 of the 12 preparedness actions

45%

Taking at least 3 of the 12 preparedness actions

25%

*See Table 1 for the 12 Preparedness Actions

Preparedness Influencers

Table 3: Preparedness Influencers – Tsunami

Preparedness Influencers

Description of Preparedness Influencers

2021

Awareness

Have read, seen, or heard information in the past year about how to get better prepared for a tsunami

39%

Hazard Experience

Have personal or familial experience with the impacts of a tsunami

15%

High Preparedness Efficacy

Believe that preparing can help in a tsunami AND are confident in their abilities to prepare

27%

Risk Perception

Acknowledge that the occurrence of a tsunami could impact where they currently live

48%

The following questions were asked of NHS respondents:

  • Awareness Question: In the past year, have you read, seen, or heard any information about how to get better prepared for a tsunami?
  • Hazard Experience Question: Have you or your family ever experienced the impacts of a tsunami?
  • High Preparedness Efficacy Questions: How much would taking steps to prepare help you get through a tsunami in your area? How confident are you that you can take steps to prepare for a tsunami in your area?
  • Risk Perception Question: Thinking about the area you live in, how likely would it be for a tsunami to impact you?

Stages of Change

Table 4: Stages of Change – Tsunami

Stage

Description

2021

Precontemplation

I am NOT prepared, and I do not intend to prepare in the next year

37%

Contemplation

I am NOT prepared, but I intend to start preparing in the next year

20%

Preparation

I am NOT prepared, but I intend to get prepared in the next six months

15%

Action

I have been prepared for the last year

16%

Maintenance

I have been prepared for MORE than a year, and I continue preparing

12%

The following question was asked of NHS respondents:

  • Thinking about preparing yourself for a tsunami, which of the following best represents your degree of preparedness?

Tsunami Specific Oversample Questions

Table 5: Warning Signs Knowledge Check – Tsunami

Question

Response

 2021

What are the warning signs of a tsunami?

(Respondents could select all that apply)

Warning Signs

Earthquake

57%

A Roaring Sound

42%

Water Recedes Quickly from the Coast

73%

All three warning signs

23%

NOT Warning Signs

Strong Wind

32%

Sudden Temperature Change

22%

None

4%

Table 6: Protective Actions Knowledge Check – Tsunami

Question

Response

2021

What is the best action to take to protect yourself if the building you are in starts to shake?

 

Correct Protective Action

Drop, Cover, and Hold On

40%

INCORRECT Protective Actions (NOT Recommended)

Get in A Doorway or Doorframe

39%

Run Out of The Building

15%

None

6%

Helpful Links

  •   FEMA Preparedness Research
  •     o   2021 National Household Survey

        o   2020 National Household Survey

        o   National Household Survey Datasets on OpenFEMA         (raw data)

        o   Protective Actions Research

  •   Tsunami Preparedness Resources
  •     o   Tsunami Preparedness Tips

        o   Tsunami Information Sheet

        o   Tsunami Animation (NOAA)

        o   Tsunami Preparedness for Kids

     

  •   General Preparedness Resources
  •   Previous Data Digests
  •     o   Winter Weather

        o   Power Outage

        o   2021 NHS Results

        o   Wildfire

        o   Hurricane Saftey (2020 NHS)

        o   Tornado

        o   Flood

        o   Financial Resilience

        o   Earthquake

        o   2020 NHS Results

        o   Hurricane Preparedness (2019 NHS)