Like many residents of Southcentral Alaska, Kara Gately has her own story from the Nov. 30 earthquake. She was working at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer when it happened.

“We dropped, covered and held,” Gately said, recalling that she rode out the earthquake from underneath a desk.

She and the other scientists at the center have five minutes to analyze an earthquake's data and determine if a tsunami is possible. The 7.1 quake prompted a warning for all of Cook Inlet.

“People got it and reacted the way they should. Any time you’re in a tsunami warning, you need to get away from the coast. We recommend a mile inland or 100 feet above sea level,” Gately explained.

The center briefly lost power during the quake before its generator kicked in, but all systems remained operational. Gately credits that to the work electrical technicians put into the communications room.

“We have movable platforms that are intended to absorb seismic energy,” said senior electronics technician Michael Burgy, as he demonstrated how the equipment oscillates.

Burgy said the center's computers are “mission critical,” so it’s crucial they can withstand moderate shaking. Any equipment not on rollers is bolted to the floor and the wall.

“Within five minutes from now, 30 million people along the West Coast may need to be in a warning and our equipment here is to make sure it’s available,” Burgy said.

One center employee without an earthquake story is its new director, James Gridley. He arrived right after the big quake.

Gridley said he’s proud of how staff followed procedures and distributed information, using social media to get the word out too.

“It used to be these very regimented, strict wording of messages. Now with social media we’ve adjusted, and moved to a little bit more common language, try to be really clear. But it’s also a two-way street and they start asking questions, which is fun for us,” Gridley said.

The 9.2 magnitude earthquake from 1964 is a reminder of the damage a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami can cause and the lives that could be lost.

The last week in March is designated as Tsunami Preparedness Week, when staff take the time to teach Alaskans how to respond to a seismic emergency and how they can be prepared for the next big one.

“The things you can do at home right now is work to know you have a family plan. How are you going to contact your family members? Where will you all meet, what is the plan?” Gately said.

The state's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management recommends people have an emergency kit with at least seven days of food and water for their family.

The Tsunami Warning Center is hosting on open house on Saturday. Staff will use a wave tank to show how tsunamis are formed, and people can take a spin in an earthquake simulator that rocks to an 8.0 earthquake.

The open house is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, at the center at 910 S. Felton Street in Palmer.

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