A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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Riding the Wave to Tsunami Preparedness

October 2016

Caribe WaveOn March 17, 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), TsunamiZone.org, and the U.S. National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program co-sponsored the tenth annual CARIBE WAVE 2016.The event is a tsunami preparedness effort for the Caribbean and adjacent regions (CARIBE EWS). The sponsor organizations started CARIBE WAVE after the Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated the area in 2004.

Across the CARIBE EWS, 331,656 people participated in CARIBE WAVE 2016, including 140,875 people in Puerto Rico and nearly 3,000 in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In total, 32 nations and 15 territories took part. Groups like emergency preparedness organizations, K-12 schools, colleges, government agencies, health care facilities, hotels, and faith-based organizations came together to prepare for disaster. According to NOAA, it was the largest international tsunami drill of all time.

“Planning took more than a year,” said CARIBE EWS Task Team Leader Dr. Elizabeth Vanacore. “Our partners helped us offer registration in all three languages used in the area—English, French, and Spanish—for the first time.”

Spreading Tsunami Alerts across the Region
Tsunami Warning Focal Points spread warnings to their local areas.
Tsunami Warning Focal Points spread warnings to their
local areas.
The event included two different but related mock disaster scenarios. The first was a tsunami  caused by a magnitude 8.4 earthquake off the northern coast of Venezuela. It created waves nearly 40 feet high. An hour later, the second mock scenario began. An 8.7 magnitude earthquake in Northern Hispaniola triggered waves nearly 56 feet high. These waves were forecasted to hit the shores of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

At the beginning of each scenario, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) sent out a tsunami warning directly to participants. PTWC also emailed messages to the designated Tsunami Warning Focal Points (TWFPs). These regional offices then passed on the warning to their communities and to local National Tsunami Warning Centers.

Moving to Safe Ground
Residents in Panama practiced evacuating from the tsunami zone.
Residents in Panama practiced evacuating from the tsunami zone.

After the alerts were sent out and sirens sounded, participants practiced what they would do in a real emergency situation. They followed their identified evacuation routes.

During evacuation, people got real-time updates from emergency alert systems, text messages, media outlets, NOAA weather radios, and social media.Participants also learned how to prepare through seminars, tabletop exercises, and video/web conferences. From February 10 to May 12, participants shared 3,500 tweets, photos, videos, and infographics of their readiness actions using #CARIBEWAVE.

Overall, CARIBE WAVE 2016 showed the strong impact a joint effort can have on boosting a region’s resiliency.

“This exercise made it possible to test our tsunami warning products throughout the CARIBE EWS,” said Christa G. von Hillebrandt-Andrade, manager of the NOAA/NWS Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program in Mayagüez. “Most importantly, it also helped people learn hands-on skills for responding to a tsunami.”

To get resources used in CARIBE WAVE 2016, such as the exercise handbook, visit CaribeWave.info.