What DID happen was terrible media response.... (just like last time)
I'd like to start with a simple explanation of the various phrases used in tsunami reporting. Laymen may not know the technical emergency coordinator's definitions of these terms but I can sum them up pretty easily. The 3 levels of Tsunami risk are Alert, Advisory and Warning. These 3 words are common English words that can be easily defined as used in the common vocabulary;
Alert or Watch: Some potential risk exists in your region. ie. You are in cougar country
Advisory: Be prepared for a danger, there is a reasonable likelihood of an incident. ie. There was a cougar in the neighbourhood last night
Warning: Danger is practically guaranteed. ie. There's a cougar in your bath tub
While the official definitions of these terms are, of course, different in reference to tsunamis I feel these definitions are closer to the way an average person would define them and still give people the appropriate level of alarm.
So, what's my point? The wrong level of alarm leads to the wrong response. If there is a cougar in your bathtub you should evacuate your home. If there is a cougar in the neighbourhood you should keep your kids and dogs inside. If you're in cougar country you should educate yourself on the dangers therein. While on an individual level overreacting may not create additional dangers, in group situations overreaction can be lethal. With regard to tsunamis and other large scale disasters there are a couple of problems I can think of at the moment;
1) Panic: Last night countless west coasters, encouraged by inaccurate news and social media information rushed around town, after dark on a Saturday night believing they had minutes to save their families or a few valuables from an imminent disaster.
2) Apathy: If you over-hype every potential emergency people will eventually come to distrust you. We already have people who set up lawn chairs on the beach or grab their board and paddle out when there's a tsunami alert.What if we've all grown as complacent when it is time to run to the hills? I guess I could have just linked to this video
These are the key concerns but there is also considerable emotional and physical stress placed on the people effected. Business are effected by panicked customers leaving without a real risk, etc.
It's not just the big boys that are at fault here, though they are the ones that should know better. While it's true that the 30 foot wave (which was actually 30 cm) was reported by a major outlet, as were countless references to tsunami warnings in regions where they were never issued the social media world carries much of the guilt.
People love the "social" part of social media but forget the responsibility that comes with the "media" bit. At one point in history media had to quote their sources so as the assure the reader that their report was credible. Accredited journalists take ethics courses to encourage them to consider the social impact of an inaccurate story (though it seems it doesn't always stick). The average Twitter user, blogger, nutter on Facebook or less qualified media person (including myself) haven't done so but this doesn't make the responsibility any less our own.
So please... when the news really matters consider your source... and then consider THEIR source... and then consider if your post, comment or screaming through the streets is actually helping. In the case of tsunamis there are easily accessible resources online that are official, credible and astoundingly accurate. One that I've found very helpful broadcasting through two tsunami events now is The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.... They know what's happening better than any of the talking heads out there (myself included) so why not skip the sensationalist middle man and get the real information. While broadcasting I will only quote these types of sources as fact, I will credit them and encourage listeners to follow up on their own. I WILL NOT quote a random tweet, post or phone call as fact and you should not do the same whether to a friend in the pub or a million viewers on CBC.
All that said I want to thank those who once again placed their trust in Long Beach Radio to deliver calm and accurate information regarding the tsunami risk in our region. I am elated that, at the time of this post there are no reports of injury or major damage elsewhere. I also want to thank the emergency response folks who work so hard year around to prepare us for these situations when they arrive.
Since originally writing this I feel I should clarify that I have no crticism of the local official response to the tsunami threat. I interviewed Tofino's Mayor Perry Schmunk this afternoon about it, I'll play the interview on air tomorrow after the 9am news but here it is for you eager beavers;
Mayor Perry Schmunk Discusses Tofino's Response To The Haida Gwaii Earthquake - Oct 28, 2012 by Long Beach Radio on Mixcloud
I'm no essayist so thanks for reading and, even more so thanks for listening to Long Beach Radio. -Geoff