How to survive a Tsunami – by Leonard Khoo Wei Quan


  1. 1

    Learn about the potential for danger in advance. It is important to consider in advance whether or not you live somewhere that could potentially face a tsunami. It is likely that you are at some risk if:

    • Your home, school, or workplace is in a coastal region, near the sea.
    • The elevation of your home, school or workplace is at sea level or fairly low and on flat or only slightly undulating land. If you don’t know the elevation level of your home, school or workplace, find out. Some local authorities use elevation as a warning indicator.
    • There are warning signs indicating that your area is prone to tsunamis.
    • Your local authorities have issued information about the potential for tsunamis.
    • Natural sea barriers such as levees of dunes have been removed for development.
    • Tsunamis have struck your coastal region in the past. Do some library research or ask at the local government office. FEMA has a website enabling online flood risk searches..
    • Your home, school, or workplace etc. buildings are not tsunami resistant.
  2. Prepare in advance. If your research demonstrates that you are at risk, prepare both an evacuation plan and a safety pack.
    • Assemble a safety pack. Food, water, and a first aid kit are among the basics required. Keep the safety pack somewhere obvious, well-known to everyone in the building and easy to grab in an emergency. It can also help to leave a raincoat or other coat for each person near the safety pack.
    • Assemble a personal survival pack for each person in the family, and a family survival pack with common items for everyone. Include a supply of necessary medications for each member of the family. Don’t forget survival items for your pets.
    • Develop a personal evacuation plan. An evacuation plan must be prepared in advance to be of use. In developing one, consider your family, your workplace, your school and your wider community.
  3. 3

    If necessary, begin to develop a community-wide evacuation plan if nothing is being done in your community. Take the initiative to start developing the plan, and involve local authorities and other residents. Lack of evacuation plans and local warning systems put you, your family and your entire community at increased risk for injury or death during and after a tsunami.  These are the things that should be part of a successful evacuation plan:

    • Discuss with family, and colleagues the various options for evacuation.
    • Conduct practice drills to ensure that all members of the community are clear about what they need to do and where they need to go during a safety evacuation.
    • Include a plan that can ensure a head count of every single member of the community; ensure that assistance for disabled or ill persons can be provided
    • Ensure that warning and evacuation signals are understood by the community in advance – distribute pamphlets or give lectures to ensure that everybody is aware. Read Understand Tsunami Notification Terms.
    • Remember to provide multiple safety routes owing to the possibility of an earthquake destroying roads and other infrastructure, preventing exit using some routes.
    • Consider what types of sheltered areas might exist in the evacuation zones; do such shelters need to be built in advance?
  4. 4

    Heed natural warnings. Natural warnings can help to indicate the imminent arrival of a tsunami. Be aware that in many cases, these may be the only warnings you will get as safety authorities may not have a chance to get warnings and evacuation procedures implemented. Be self-responsible and do your best to keep yourself and your family, friends and colleagues safe. Natural signs that herald the possibility of a coming tsunami include:

    • An earthquake. If you live in a coastal zone, the occurrence of an earthquake should be immediate cause for alarm and evasive action.
    • A rapid rise and fall in coastal waters. If the sea suddenly recedes (draws back), leaving bare sand, this is a major warning sign that there is about to be a sudden surge of water inland.
    • Animal behavior changes. Watch for animals leaving the area or behaving abnormally, such as trying to seek human shelter or grouping together in ways they would not normally do.[6]
  5. 5

    Heed community and government warnings. If the local authorities do have time to issue a warning, take heed. Inform yourself in advance of how the local authorities plan to make warnings so that you do not mistake or ignore the warning when it comes. Share that information with family, friends, neighbors and the community; if the local authorities have pamphlets, a website or other information sources, ask for copies to distribute or request that the local authority fulfill this role.

  6. 6

    Take action. If a tsunami is likely to make landfall on your coastal region, react immediately. Put into place the Evacuation Plan. Actions should include:

    • Move inland, and to high ground. Immediate movement away from the coast, lagoons or other bodies of water next to the coast is essential. This means going up to higher ground and even into hills or mountains. Always head away from the coast and keep moving inland.
    • Climb high. If you cannot head inland because you are trapped, head up. Although not ideal, if this is your only option, choose a high, sturdy and solid building and climb up it. Go as high as you possibly can, even onto the roof.
    • Climb a sturdy tree. As a very last resort, if you find yourself trapped and unable to move inland or climb a high building, find a strong and tall tree and climb up it as high as you can. There is a risk of trees being dragged under by the tsunami, however, so this really is a measure to be used only if all other alternatives have been rendered useless. The stronger the tree, the higher it will allow you to climb and the sturdier its branches for resting on (you may be there for hours) and the better chances you will have of surviving.
  7. 7

    React quickly if you are caught up in the water. If you did not manage to evacuate but find yourself caught up in the tsunami for one reason or another, there are things that you can do to try and survive:

    • Grab onto something that floats. Use a floating object as a raft to keep yourself above the water. Items that float such as tree trunks, doors, fishing equipment etc. may be in the water with you.
  8. 8

    Abandon belongings. Save lives, not possessions. Trying to retrieve things and belongings may hamper your escape by causing you to lose valuable time. Grab your safety pack, something to keep you warm, your family and leave immediately.

  9. 9

    Keep away until the “all clear” signal is broadcast. A tsunami comes in waves. There may be many, many waves lasting for hours and the next wave may be even larger than the last.

  10. 10

    Try to get reliable information. Listen to the radio for updates on what is happening. Do not trust word of mouth. It is better to wait than to return too early and be caught by more incoming waves.

  11. 11

    Wait for local authorities to issue an “All Clear.” Only then should you return to your home. Find out in advance how local authorities propose to announce such a notice. Remember that roads may be extremely damaged by the tsunami waves and you may have to take alternative routes. A good pre-planned emergency plan should account for this possibility and provide alternative routes and gathering places.

  12. 12

    Realize that concentrating on survival continues after abatement of the tsunami. Once the tsunami has subsided, there will be debris, destroyed buildings and broken infrastructure. There may also be dead bodies. Fresh water supplies may be destroyed or disrupted. Food supplies will most likely be unavailable. The potential for disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, starvation, and injuries will make the post-tsunami period nearly as perilous as the tsunami itself. An emergency plan should also consider the aftermath and what you’ll need to do to protect yourself, your family and your community. The reality is that coping with the aftermath of a tsunami is not an individual effort but a community one. If your local authorities have not put action plans into place, insist that they do so or form a community action group to consider a post-tsunami plan. Things that can help survival post tsunami include:

    • Establishing an advance stash of fresh water. Whether bottled water or filtered water, an emergency water supply should be in place in your community.
    • Opening up undamaged homes and buildings to others. Help those in distress and provide them with shelter.
    • Ensuring that there are power generators to enable cooking, maintenance of hygiene and return of basic health and transportation services.
    • Running emergency shelters and food distribution.
    • Getting health care into action immediately.
    • Quelling fires and gas ruptures.

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