Tsunami Watch and The Emergency Broadcast System

We had a 7.0 earthquake (downgraded from a 7.4) 80 miles off the coast of Northern California this evening. Of course an earthquake of this magnitude occurring in the ocean warrants concerns for tsunami. Only nobody seemed too concerned about it.

I got a call from my mother-in-law. She said, “Are you guys okay?” I was puzzled by her question but re-assured her that we (my wife, Miranda Kopfschmertzen, and I) were indeed fine. She followed up with, “…because the TV says you guys are on Tsunami warning.” Not your usual sort of chit chat. “Okay,” I say, “I’ll see what I can find out. I’ll call you if there is any reason to be alarmed, but I am sure it will be fine.” Milly let me know that we were welcome to come to their house, which was now being code named “High Ground.”

I happened to be on the Internet anyway, so I googled. (Google is now an acceptable verb. Soon it will be more common than the verbs “search” or “find.” It will be common to ask you secretary, “Sally, can you google me some coffee?”) I googled “California Tsunami 2005.” Indeed there were news stories posted only minutes before about Tsunami concerns. But here is the irksome part – it wasn’t until the fourth listing that the news story came from a source in California, and the first news story came from Australia.

I moved on to other media sources. I turned on the radio expecting either the Emergency Broadcast System beep or instructions on what to do in case of Tsunami. Instead I learned that Michael Jackson is still innocent. (Whew!) I moved downstairs to the television. CNN – nothing. Local channels – nothing. The Weather Channel was showing it original programming “Super Storms,” but they did have a scrolling message at the bottom listing Pacific coastal cities and the time the Tsunami was expected to hit.

Honestly, this freaked me out. Not only was a tsunami coming, but it was coming to a town near me! At 10 p.m. no less! And I wasn’t freaked out that we had an impending tsunami, I was freaked out that the Emergency Broadcast System failed. MORE TAX DOLLARS DOWN THE CRAPPER! I had a sudden vision of a titanium coffee maker on a lovely oak buffet plugged in and percolating happily, while a another plug labeled “EBS” lay unconnected on the floor next to the buffet.

Finally, I found a news show on a local channel giving news about the earthquake and the impending tsunami. (It should be noted that this station was not showing the news as a “break in” to their normal programming. Rather this was their normal broadcasting time and the earthquake was a convenient story for them.)

They reported this earthquake to be 80 west of Eureka. Eureka is just south of Arcata where I went to university. So I rifled through the Rolodex in my head of any of my university friends who still live up in that area. Immediately, The Bearded Man came to mind. Not only does he still live up there, but he was an oceanography major. And with his luck, the powers-that-be would surely be sending him to the shore with scuba gear and a yard stick.

As fortune would have it, I happen to speak to The Bearded Man just the day before and I still had his number on redial. The first time I called, his line was busy. “Busy?!” I thought, “Is that bad? And for the love of Jack Lord, who doesn’t have call-waiting in this day and age?” I waited a few nervous moments and called again. This time it rang. The Bearded Man answered, “Hello?” His voice was calm. “Are you okay?” I asked. He expressed the same calming confusion I laid on my mother-in-law, “Uh…yeah. How are you?” I asked about the earthquake and the impending tsunami. He said he felt the earthquake but had heard nothing of a tsunami to follow. (At this point, I conjured a vision of some bureaucratic fat cat savoring some freshly poured coffee and ponders to himself, “I wonder what ‘EBS’ stands for anyway.”)

I was still half watching the news. They had gone live via mobile phone to some reporter who was apparently standing on the coast in Eureka watching for the tsunami. The on-site reporter claimed that he saw nothing out of the ordinary and if the tsunami had not come by now, the rest of the coast was in the clear. Very scientific. Very official.

Think about this for a moment, because it bears reflection: to find out if we (Pacific Coasters) were in tsunami danger, Channel 9 News (Not necessarily the most savvy scientists) sent a single dude out to the beach to watch for tsumani-sign in the middle of night. I don’t know if you have ever been to the beach at night, but one thing I can assure you can NOT see is sudden changes in the tide. For future reference here’s how you know if a tsunami is coming. Instead of giving the “all clear” as the reporter did, he would instead say something like this: Everything seems fine…wait. My shins are wet. What the…. Garbled noises. Static. Gage your distance from the reporter and head for the hills.

So The Bearded Man and I spoke for a bit, danger averted. After we got off the phone, I had sudden visions of one of my old Humboldt University professors, Gary Carver. Gary Carver was a professor of geology and a total character. My wife, Miranda Kopfschmertzen, happen to take a class on earthquakes from him. Gary Carver lived for these kinds of events. Whenever there was an earthquake he was on the first plane to where ever it was to measure all the thing one measures for earthquakes. Here he can be seen walking on geology much the same way Jesus walked on water.


  1. Miranda on 16 June 2005 at 7:13 am

    Where, for the love of Jack Lord, did you get that picture of him? And boy he is in his geologic element in this photo (dig those rubber boots – I LOVE HIM!). Yes, the good old days of ‘Earthquake Country’…..sigh… if only I could forage for berries in the forest with him one last time.

  2. mia on 20 June 2005 at 11:01 am

    I loved that the imminent news of total annihilation was only available on CHANNEL NINE. Oh lordy.

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