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California's tsunami warning system improves

March 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
California's tsunami warning system was called into action over the weekend as the powerful Chile earthquake triggered fears of giant waves around the Pacific. The state learned from its mistakes when it comes to tsunami response, credited to a smoother operation on Saturday.

"In California, there's about 350,000 people that would be impacted if there was a major tsunami," said Kelly Huston, Calif. Emergency Management Agency.

The California Emergency Management Agency says its tsunami warning system worked much better this time. Chile's 8.8-magnitude earthquake prompted leaders into action, notifying local authorities in coastal areas to get ready for tidal surges.

The state was criticized back in 2006 for its lack of coordination when an earthquake rattled Japan, but not this time.

"We were pleased with the ability to be able to immediately connect with all the counties and be able to provide them the information and updates," said Huston.

The State Operations Center in Sacramento had even mapped out where the big waves might occur, with Pismo Beach having the most potential for destruction, with surges possibly reaching 9 feet.

"Make sure that there's the right notification and resources being made in those areas and just double-checking with them," said Huston.

As it turned out, the big destructive waves never materialized, just larger waves than normal in some areas.

In Long Beach, the ocean receded in a big way, leaving some boats stranded in the harbor without water and the shoreline was much farther away for a time.

Stinson Beach Fire Chief Kenny Stevens remembers the state's response last time and says his city was able to react much better Saturday implementing the reverse 911.

"Using the Telephone Emergency Network System that notified the residents in low-lying areas of a possible tsunami advisory," said Stevens.

Also since the last time, the state updated its tsunami maps that were 20 years old and didn't reflect new subdivisions.

"You've got many of the communities and neighborhoods that if there was a major tsunami that occurred, this is how far in the water would go," said Huston. "This is the people that need to get out."

Even though the state thinks the response went well, it will still review how it did and improve the plan where necessary.