Yes, tsunamis can happen here: County gets 3 warning sirens

The waves would likely be triggered by earthquakes. Sirens will help alert people who are outside.

EVERETT — Snohomish County has three new tsunami sirens, according to a state Division of Emergency Management announcement.

According to a news release, two sirens were placed at the Port of Everett and one in Edmonds.

They were among 50 that were recently installed, completing a statewide Tsunami Siren Network that began more than 15 years ago. The state now maintains 122 sirens along Washington’s coasts.

“This life-saving project brought together state agencies, tribal, county and city emergency management as well as other important stakeholders to ensure Washington’s coastal communities can be alerted in the event of a tsunami warning,” Maximilian Dixon, the geologic hazards supervisor for the state’s emergency management division, said in a statement.

The sirens can be heard from about a mile away, and will play a kind of Sci-Fi-ish wailing sound. Then, there will be a voice, in English and in Spanish, telling people to go immediately to high ground.

The tsunami sirens are intended to act as alerts for people who are out and about, who may not have access to radio, TV or smartphones. They’re not meant to be heard indoors.

The sirens will undergo routine testing. At noon on the first Monday of each month, they’ll play the Westminster Chimes. And once per year, on the third Thursday in October, they’ll do the regular wailing sound, but the voice that comes on after will explain that it’s just a test. That’ll be in conjunction with the annual Great Washington ShakeOut event.

In Snohomish County, tsunamis are unlikely, but they can happen.

It’s happened before. In the early 1800s, a landslide on the southern end of Camano Island kicked up a large wave that drowned people digging clams on nearby Hat Island, according to the Tulalip Tribes.

In the future, tsunamis could be triggered by earthquakes from the Seattle or South Whidbey faults, and could reach shore in less than a half-hour, giving little time to warn people.

In its Hazard Mitigation Plan, updated in 2020, the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management estimates more than 3,500 people live in tsunami hazard areas, along with more than 2,600 buildings. That’s not to mention critical infrastructure, like utilities, roads and bridges, schools and emergency services. Altogether, damages could exceed $821 million.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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