No tsunami danger in Anchorage, so why the alert?
Better to be safe than sorry. That's what Oceanview resident Max Klingenstein decided was best when he saw the tsunami warning on his phone.
“The first thing that went through my head is, 'grab the baby, grab the dog and let’s get in the car and get up on the hillside,'” Klingenstein said.
They made their way toward Flattop Mountain in the middle of the night and found themselves surrounded by others who’d also evacuated their home, only to learn they were never in any danger.
Police sent out a second Nixle to clarify that the Anchorage Bowl was outside of the tsunami danger zone.
But, if Anchorage was never in any danger, why did residents get alerts on their phones in the first place?
The muni's emergency programs manager, Andrew Preis, says their information comes from the National Weather Service and notifications are automatically sent out each time a warning is issued.
“They populate their messages based on geographic census areas. The Municipality of Anchorage is covered by a couple of different codes, and so when those codes popped up for coastal regions such as Western Prince William Sound, that also covered parts of the Municipality of Anchorage down by Whittier and Portage; so, when that activated, all of the Municipality of Anchorage started receiving those alerts.
“Our hope is that people understand that we want them to have more information rather than less, dig a little deeper into the message and see that Anchorage is not listed in the affected areas,” Pries said.
Ken Macpherson is a watchstander with the National Tsunami Warning Center. He says while many coastal communities were at risk, the chance that the Anchorage bowl will ever experience a tsunami is slim.
“You would really have to have a source zone that was in Anchorage to affect Cook Inlet. So it can happen. I'll never say never, but is quite unlikely because of Anchorage’s location at the head of Cook Inlet,” Macpherson said.
Those who work with Emergency Alert System alerts, like state Emergency Communications Committee co-chair Dennis Bookey, say the first priority is to get the alert out to affected areas. Bookey says Anchorage was not in the tsunami warning area and wasn't at risk of a tsunami, so no direct alert was issued in Alaska's largest city.
"We do not want to unduly panic the people in Anchorage," Bookey said. "That has happened in the past when it was the policy of the state to warn the entire state, including people in Fairbanks. That thought process has changed now."
Bookey says new technology allows officials to target EAS messages to specific areas. Officials will analyze how fast TV and radio stations got the warning, and speak with communities on Wednesday to take a closer look at how everything played out.
Joe Vigil contributed information to this story.
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