Early warning systems alert communities that a tsunami is on its way, but the public must be prepared to act and reduce the risk. New UNDRR initiative inspires tsunami preparedness.
On November 5, 2022, UNDRR launched a new World Tsunami Awareness Day initiative with a #GetToHighGround public-facing campaign, organizing tsunami awareness walks along coastal hazard evacuation routes, starting with shares in Mauritius and Portugal.
The marches were organized by the National Center for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in Mauritius and the Municipal Civil Protection Office of Sesimbra Town Hall in Portugal, and UNDRR.
A culture of preparation in Mauritius
Mauritius, a small island developing state, faces several major disaster risks: tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes and, of course, tsunamis. The country has withstood major disasters, the most devastating of which was Cyclone Carol in 1960, which claimed 42 lives and leveled more than 100,000 buildings.
Today, a modern multi-hazard early warning system has improved resilience. But early warnings are only effective when people are ready to act quickly. Strengthening a culture of awareness and preparedness for tsunamis and other coastal hazards is a priority for the country.
Walking on the same tune
The Mauritian #GetToHighGround campaign was launched with a symbolic march along the coastal evacuation route in the Quatre-Sœurs region, ending at the Quatre-Sœurs emergency shelter which stands on the heights.
The march was followed by a training session on what to do in the event of a tsunami.
A military band kept the mood alive, marking time for officials, guests and marchers from the community – including people with disabilities, the elderly and children. When a tsunami hits, no one should be left behind.
The seismic history of Portugal
Although rare in Europe, tsunamis do happen – and they can be devastating.
In 1755, Portugal was hit by a major earthquake – around 9 on the Richter scale – which triggered tsunami waves reaching 5-6 meters high in Lisbon.
There have been more recent (although less deadly) earthquakes and tsunamis – in February 1969 in mainland Portugal, killing 25 people and injuring around 80, and in January 1980 in the Azores, killing 61 and injuring more than 400 people. Experts have warned that another earthquake could occur – and risk reduction measures would be prudent to help protect the hundreds of thousands of people who live on its increasingly urbanized shores.
A culture of preparation
The country has several mechanisms in place to provide early warnings of major hazards, including the seismic network and the regional tsunami warning centre. Raising awareness and building a culture of preparedness is crucial for people living in at-risk areas.
The city of Sesimbra is a member of Making Cities Resilient 2030 (MCR2030), a UN-led global collaboration that mobilizes governments and other committed stakeholders to build disaster and climate resilience. MCR2030 advocates that tsunami-exposed municipalities prioritize risk management associated with this deadly hazard. The experience of these municipalities consistently indicates that tsunami risk reduction is a worthwhile investment.
Fittingly, the #GetToHighGround campaign kicked off in the Sesimbra area with a walk following coastal evacuation routes from four different starting points. Participants were asked to answer a quiz on how to react to a tsunami.
Portugal’s Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Patricia Gaspar, and Deputy Mayor of Sesimbra, Marcio Souza, joined the march, taking the opportunity to stress the importance of reducing the risk of tsunamis. This march, they noted, marked the start of ongoing activities planned by the Municipal Civil Protection Office to improve resilience to tsunamis, as part of a broader strategy in Portugal.
“Having plans, having people on board, is really important to make sure we can actually save lives,” Ms Gaspar said.
The two walks, to Sesimbra in Portugal and to the Four Sisters in Mauritius, are just the beginning.
UNDRR’s new #GetToHighGround initiative – launched on World Tsunami Awareness Day, 5 November – aims to activate citizens by participating in a drill, symbolic run or walk along the evacuation routes of tsunamis, wherever tsunamis pose a threat.
These activities will raise awareness of tsunami risk reduction and help communities prepare their own responses and actions against future risks. Events are an inclusive and engaging way to involve all people in raising tsunami risk awareness, while initiating emergency preparedness.
When a tsunami hits, no one should be left behind
The #GetToHighGround campaign calls for a culture of tsunami and coastal hazard awareness for all those at risk. The campaign emphasizes the importance of understanding our risks and investing in actions that both reduce risk and prepare us for future tsunami and coastal hazard risk reduction.
Tsunamis should be treated as multidimensional hazards. They threaten human life, but also disrupt livelihoods, industry, agriculture, gender equality and essential services such as education and healthcare.
These cascading risks can ripple across sectors, geographies and societies – tsunami preparedness must include assessments and ways to deal with these ripple effects.
Access to high quality and readily available information is essential to reduce gaps in national mechanisms and local preparedness, and to improve awareness of early warning systems.