Koester says Homer residents handled tsunami threat well
Homer City Manager Katie Koester said the community's response and efforts during last month's earthquake that triggered tsunami warnings along the Alaska coastline went extremely well, and that she was thrilled at the overall performance of emergency responders and residents.
"It was a night for all of us, and I want to really thank the community for their orderly evacuation," said Koester during the Homer City Council meeting on Monday evening. "I couldn't have been happier with the community's response."
Homer was among the many Alaska cities alerted to a tsunami threat shortly after 12:31 a.m, Jan. 23, when an earthquake measured at 7.9 on the Richter scale shook Southcentral Alaska. The earthquake was centered in the ocean near Kodiak.
Koester said the city has been actively looking for ways to help residents better prepare for an emergency by taking a close look at the evacuation process. She hopes to use some new mapping information to better prepare for any future incidents.
"There is no better time than a real scenario that didn't turn into a disaster to figure out what we can do better next time," she said. "One of the take-aways we have is this need to really have a community conversation on the inundation zone. We use "below Pioneer" as a very conservative model for evacuating."
Following the tsunami warning, Koester said University of Alaska officials drafted a map showing inundation zones within the community. Although that new map hasn't been published yet, any information included would be used to better prepare residents as to the risk of a tsunami, flooding and potential evacuation routes.
"We were presented with a new draft map that hasn't been published yet that has some different inundation zones which also prompted our conservative approach to evacuating," she said. "What we would really like to do, as a community, is talk about that map once we have that final map, or at least close to a final map, so people will know their are in an evacuation zone."
Koester said she had already spoken with members of the media about helping disseminate any new information in regard to changes to the evacuation process once information from the new mapping process is available.
One of the main areas Koester said the city would be looking to improve was in providing training for public information officers. Their ability to keep the community informed with reliable information during a a disaster are paramount, she said.
"Putting out accurate information is key," she noted. "The public will want to know what is going on, and the need to have a reliable source is key."
Additionally, Koester said she hopes to hold drills and have conversations with members of the emergency operations team to determine what worked, and what could be improved upon as far as disaster preparedness.
"While it went really smoothly and really great, I would like to take the drills to the next level," she said.