Inside the Eye of the Storm: The Cal OES/NOAA Tsunami Exercise

NOAA and the Calif. Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) conducted a test of the tsunami warning communications system on March 25th in coastal areas of central and southern California.

NOAA’s National Weather Service Offices in Monterey, Oxnard and San Diego broadcast the “Required Monthly Test,” and was also broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, local television and radio stations. Cal OES collaborated with 20 coastal counties in addition to NOAA and the Civil Air Patrol to carry out the annual Tsunami Warning Communications Test. This year the weather cooperated with exercise and allowed the Civil Air Patrol to participate in a flyover in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. During the test, the CAP tested their capability to alert the public of a simulated tsunami warning using an on-board public address system.

There were three measures of success for the test: (1) No one called 9-1-1, so the drill communications regarding this was effective; (2) No one got hurt in the test; and (3) the technology was tested and recommendations for improvement were identified. All three were met.

Here’s how it all went down.

As part of the test, the sponsoring agencies sought public feedback on the performance of notification systems, including, Emergency Alert System, weather radio, local siren systems, aerial notification and social media. As of this writing, feedback is still being evaluated to determine how to improve effectiveness in providing clear, timely warnings. While many were pleased with the test, public feedback suggests that some locations were challenged by competing noise levels, such as the surf or mechanical processes. In other cases, electrical static complicated message clarity. Some feedback suggested broadening the capabilities by utilizing other notification systems, such as those available on college campuses.

The Tsunami Steering Committee will meet to hear the exercise feedback and determine how we can continue to improve our capabilities to alert and warn the public in the event a tsunami warning issued by NOAA for coastal California.

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