Pacifica ponders tsunami alerts

Amid continuing fears that a tidal wave could take the San Mateo County coast by surprise, the city of Pacifica is considering installing a tsunami alert system on three sections of its coastline.

By the end of this month, the city expects to have tidal wave alert system sirens installed in the Rockaway Beach, Linda Mar Beach and Sharp Park areas, the densest spots in town along the water, Pacifica police Capt. Fernando Realyvasquez said. The sirens would be connected directly to the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services, which would set them off in the event of a tsunami.

Six other sirens, also under the control of county OES, will be placed at various locations south of Pacifica along the coast, Realyvasquez said.

The city has run into tough financial times, having cut more than $1.5 million from its current fiscal year budget, so the free sirens — items valued at more than $25,000 each and subsidized by the federal government and National Weather Service — came as good news. City Manager Steve Rhodes said the systems are important in keeping the city, already a hotbed of geological activity such as beach erosion, landslides and land-based earthquakes, safe and sound.

Pacifica officials will be asking the California Coastal Commission, which regulates all projects along the coastline, for a permit to begin the work. They said the installation of the sirens should start and wrap up quickly.

A 2006 San Mateo County civil grand jury report found that a tsunami could cause “significant loss of life along the San Mateo coast,” particularly if the wave strikes when beaches are full of people.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates tsunami risk is relatively low on this side of the Pacific Ocean, but they can happen. The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center last issued a tsunami warning in June 2005, a warning that was in effect for 72 minutes.

“It’s just a matter of being on top of our emergency preparedness,” Rhodes said. "We need to make sure our citizens are prepared for any kind of emergency, including tsunamis, that may threaten our coastline.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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