Indian River is first Florida county to be certified tsunami-ready

VERO BEACH — Mollie Boettgner of Vero Beach always has been nervous about the likelihood of a tsunami hitting the east coast of Florida.

But after Thursday presentation by emergency management officials at the Indian River Emergency Operations Center, the barrier island resident felt like she's more prepared.

"I feel a lot better now," said Boettgner. "It seems like it's really a matter of common sense, but I thought the program was very educational."

While the likelihood of a tsunami is remote, the most significant impact of a tsunami would be strong waves in a 300-foot danger zone, which is the area east of A1A. Beaches would be evacuated and residents living along the coastline would be urged to move at least 15 feet up to the highest floor of a well-constructed building.

About 20 people came to the tsunami workshop to hear from representatives from the National Weather Service , the Florida Institute of Technology and Indian River County's Emergency Management team about the county's plan to become the first county in Florida to be certified TsunamiReady.

The federal designation was started by the National Weather Service in 2001 and includes more than 100 communities in 10 states, Puerto Rico and U.S. Pacific territories.

Indian Harbour Beach in Brevard County qualified in 2005 as the first U.S. city on the east coast prepared for a tsunami. The Naval Station near Jacksonville also holds the designation, and Brevard and Volusia counties include tsunami preparedness in their emergency management plans.

Bart Hagemeyer, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said while the odds of a tsunami hitting Florida's east coast are low, being prepared is still the key.

"In my mind, Vero Beach is a leader in this," said Hagemeyer. "If there's a tsunami warning for the east coast, people are going to panic. There's only one county with a handle on this and that's Indian River."

Indian River Emergency Management planner Etta LoPresti said county officials felt it was necessary to have a plan in place to deal with potentially dangerous waves that can follow seismic events.

"Even one foot of water can sweep you off your feet and move cars around," said LoPresti.

GETTING READY

During the next 60 days, 28 tsunami evacuation signs will be posted at public beaches in Indian River County, and 23 evacuation signs will be placed along State Road A1A, the main evacuation highway on the barrier island. This signs will be part of the National Weather Service's TsunamiReady program.

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