AASHTO Journal

Tsunami Warning Triggers Emergency Actions by Alaska DOT

When Alaska felt a 7.9-category earthquake Jan. 22 that generated tsunami alerts and coastal evacuations, the state's Department of Transportation & Public Facilities said it triggered an emergency plan that included moving critical equipment to higher ground.

The temblor was reported to have struck in the Gulf of Alaska about 170 miles from Kodiak, which NBC said is home to one of the nation's largest Coast Guard bases.

The feared tsunami did not materialize, but the event provided a real-life exercise of preparedness planning.

alaska.jpgADOT&PF Commissioner Marc Luiken noted in a Jan. 23 press release that since the department serves every community in the state, "we have staff and equipment throughout the state who respond to emergencies to assist with safety and movement of people, goods and services."

That agency oversees a multimodal transportation system that includes 242 airports, 10 ferries serving 35 communities, more than 5,600 miles of highway and 731 public facilities.

During the tsunami alert, the agency said that in many areas its crews "moved firefighting and other equipment to high ground so it would be available for clearing debris or rebuilding if needed."

In addition, in Kodiak, it "opened the airport to let Coast Guard air fleets take off and then closed the airport. After the tsunami alert was cancelled, ADOT&PF crews moved equipment back to stations, reopened the Kodiak airport for Coast Guard landings and inspected roads for damage."

The announcement added that ADOT&PF crews would continue to inspect bridges in the following days that might have been affected.

Luiken also noted that an ADOT&PF crew in Cold Bay plowed snow to open that community's evacuation route.

He said that when extreme weather or other emergencies threaten, ADOT&PF employees secure their safety and that of their families, and take the following actions:

-Move critical safety and heavy equipment to safe ground because firefighting equipment could be needed during an emergency and construction equipment could be needed to clear debris and rebuild after an event.

-Open or close airports and ferry terminals, depending on time of day and need, which includes facilitating Coast Guard or military lift-off or landing for emergency support.

-Notify Alaska Marine Highway System vessels and secure safe passage.

-Communicate with the public about safe transportation routes.

-Continue to serve as first responders and assist community safety, infrastructure and communications needs.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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