Brian Yanagi

Wednesday - September 17, 2008
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Even though we’re the middle of the hurricane season now - which began in June and ends in November - it’s always tsunami season. All it takes is an unpredictable earthquake in Alaska or Peru to send giant waves to Hawaii’s calm shores, and with 80 percent of the world’s tsunamis occurring in the Pacific, it’s always good to be prepared.

Our best and first line of defense is people like Brian Yanagi, an oceanographer and disaster management specialist for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who travels around the Pacific educating coastal communities about the dangers of and how to prepare for tsunamis. “Hawaii has been hit by about 13 destructive tsunamis from 1868 through 1975,” says Yanagi. “(Lately) it’s been quiet - frankly, too quiet - in the Pacific. There will be another oceanwide Pacific basin tsunami, we just don’t know when. There is daily earthquake activity throughout the Pacific basin monitored by the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.”

Yanagi appeared on MidWeek‘s cover in 2005, shortly after the disastrous tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. Since then, NOAA hired him to educate the masses about the dangers and safety precautions needed to handle tsunamis. “It was the fastest transition between jobs I’ve had,” laughs Yanagi. “In early July 2005, one day I was with the state of Hawaii’s civil defense, and the next day I was raising my hand to be sworn in as a NOAA employee, and the next day I was on a plane to Asia and the Indian Ocean to join up with my colleagues.” He explains the aftermath of the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami left the world with many questions, making tsunami specialists like him in short supply and in high demand.

As far as planning for a tsunami at home, Yanagi keeps it simple: Don’t get in your car if you are outside the evacuation zone. Many people die in their cars traveling around in storms because they get trapped inside their vehicles with no chance of rescue. It’s also important to know and understand your geographical location. “People need to know if they are inside or outside an evacuation zone,” Yanagi says, noting the information is located on the inside cover of phonebooks. “Only the people within the zones should worry about being evacuated. If you are in the interior, than just stay where you are.”

For more information on tsunamis and other weather-related topics, visit

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