GRAYS HARBOR COUNTY, Wash. – The timing of the earthquake in Alaska early Tuesday morning that triggered a tsunami watch on the West Coast gave people in Grays Harbor County a close look at a worst-case scenario.
On Tuesday at Duffy’s Restaurant, many customers said they slept right through the potential danger.
“If it had happened, I would have been dead,” Norma Carter said.
Q13 News spoke to one longtime Grays Harbor County family who found out about the tsunami watch hours after it was lifted.
“We were sleeping (and we ) had no idea. If it’s an emergency that’s affecting the whole region, it should be on our cell phones,” Terry Smithson said.
Smithson did not get a call or text from emergency management overnight because the rules say he would've needed to sign up for that, something the vast majority of people in Grays Harbor County have not done.
“I didn’t know we had to sign up for it until you were here - no idea,” Smithson said.
About 10,000 people are signed up in the county to get alerts, but the goal is to get 70,000. Soon after the tsunami watch was lifted, about 1,000 people in two hours contacted emergency management asking to get signed up.
The county also has sirens, but those sirens didn’t go off overnight because it’s only used during a tsunami warning.
The lowest threat is a tsunami watch, followed by an advisory, then a warning.
But even if the sirens were to sound the alarm during the real deal, emergency officials say it may not reach everyone.
“It’s only for outdoor use, so if you sleep heavy or it’s a windy day, you may not hear it all,” Deputy Director Chuck Wallace of Grays Harbor County Department of Emergency Management said.
They are suggesting that everyone in the area get an all hazard alert weather radio.
“The key is to get a weather alert radio that does not turn off and will sound the alarm loudly so it wakes people up," Wallace said.
The radio can be battery or power operated. Wallace says the only situation in which the radio would not work is under a metal roof because the metal would interfere with the antenna.
The Carter family says they now plan on getting an all hazard alert weather radio.
“We have a way and a plan to get the heck out of here if we have to,” Adam Carter said.
They know that everyone might not be able to get out in time.
“There would be so many people trying to leave,” Adam said.
“In a small area like this, income-wise there isn’t a lot of money to build the infrastructure,” Brian Cummins said.
In an event of a tsunami, residents would have 3 to 5 hours to escape, but the county says the traffic gridlock would keep many stuck.
“You will not survive on the streets," Wallace said. "You have to get somewhere that’s higher."
Wallace says at some point, people will have to make the decision to ditch their cars and run to higher ground rather than trying to drive out of the county.
Wallace says get to the highest ground you can find or shelter inside tall homes or buildings.
Adam Carter says they have back roads planned out.
“Everyone is going to be climbing up one another trying to get up on the hills,” Adam said.
It’s something they hope they will never have to do, but they know they have to prepare for.