The residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough rose to the occasion as usual this past Tuesday night, as most of our mobile phones alerted us to a potential tsunami and directed residents to high ground. The warning was issued as a result of a 7.8 earthquake near the Aleutian chain and affected the southern Kenai Peninsula around Kachemak Bay. A tsunami advisory, a lesser level of alert, was in effect for the Seward and Resurrection Bay communities. Residents and visitors in low-lying areas took heed of the warning and moved to high ground, with first responders around the Borough reporting everyone left the low-lying areas quickly and calmly. All of the tsunami warnings and advisories were cancelled by 1 a.m.
The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is a Borough agency tasked with the coordination and management of natural and man-made emergencies within the political boundaries of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. During disaster events, OEM distributes information through our KPB Alerts platform and coordinates with all of the first response agencies to ensure that everyone is kept safe and informed.
Tsunami inundation areas for the Kenai Peninsula Borough are generally around Kachemak Bay and Resurrection Bay. Generally, tsunami zones do not extend up the Cook Inlet to Anchor Point, Ninilchik, or other central peninsula communities. Many residents in the central peninsula asked why they received such an urgent warning if they live outside of the danger zone – the answer to that question has some complex and technical reasons, but it can generally be attributed to our large size and governance structure.
The federal warning system that uses radio stations and wireless phones to disseminate alerts is built for use nationwide, and for the most part uses counties to determine where to send a message. While in the lower 48 this allows for a relatively targeted message, here in Alaska our Borough is the size of a small state. Unfortunately, that means the only option is to send a message to the entire area, instead of just the specific tsunami inundation areas.
In addition to the federal warning messages, subscribers to our KPB Alerts notification system may have also received a phone call or text clarifying the specific areas under threat. Unlike the federal alerting, KPB Alerts is able to geographically target messages. During an event such as this large earthquake and warnings, this may have resulted in multiple messages or phone calls. The overall goal is to ensure communities receive the right information – especially in such a potentially hazardous event like a tsunami.
At the federal level, improvements are being made to refine alerting beyond such an “all or none” solution. At the Borough, we continue to identify any lessons learned and then implement new protocols, procedures, and technologies to ensure safety for all residents and visitors. If you have not yet signed up for KPB Alerts, you can register your mobile phone to one or more physical addresses to get warnings for that area at For updated information during emergencies, please like and follow KPB Alerts on Facebook and Twitter.