Alaska tsunami, earthquake drill planned for March 27

Tegan Hanlon

Tsunami alerts will blast mid-morning on March 27, the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Alaska earthquake, but emergency officials are warning Alaska residents that it's just a drill.

The annual checkup on the emergency alert code will start at 10:15 a.m. in coastal communities, like those in the Aleutian Islands, Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak area, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

A standard emergency alert will interrupt television and radio programs, and public sirens will sound, Zidek said. He has worked at the division for the past six years, and each year the drill has run on March 27.

In Seward, tsunami sirens are tested at noon every day except Sunday. The nearly 20-second tone has become routine, said City Clerk Johanna Kinney.

"So when the whistle doesn't go off at noon and goes off at another time, everybody stops," she said. She's urging residents to post fliers on next week's drill so panic doesn't ensue.

About three hours after the tsunami drill, the state will hold an earthquake preparedness exercise, the Great Alaska ShakeOut. About 70,000 Alaskans have already signed up for the voluntary drill at 1:36 p.m., pledging to practice how to "drop, cover and hold on," Zidek said.

"If you haven't practiced it, it's not going to be the first thing you do," he said. "You might panic a little bit ... fall down stairs, expose yourself to dropping light fixtures. You expose yourself to an awful lot of risk."

If an earthquake hits, Zidek advised people to stay inside, get under a sturdy desk or table and grab on. If the violent shaking continues for 20 seconds or more, a tsunami could be generated. People in coastal towns should move to higher ground, he said.

The two drills will also run in conjunction with a statewide, full-scale exercise, Alaska Shield 2014. More than 400 different organizations will practice the state's response to an earthquake through April 2.

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Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.