Tsunami Preparedness

Santa Barbara County has around 100 miles of beach and harbor areas, all of which have the potential to experience a Tsunami. Although, tsunamis do not occur in California often, they can have a significant impact on life and property.  Residents and visitors should be aware of what actions they need to take to protect themselves and their family in the event of a tsunami.

A tsunami is one the most powerful and potentially destructive natural forces. Quick Facts:

  • It is a series of potentially dangerous waves (not just one) caused by a large and sudden displacement of the ocean.
  • US Coasts that border the Pacific Ocean or Caribbean have the greatest risk.
  • It can travel 20-30 miles per hour near land with waves 10-100 feet high. Faster than a person can run.
  • Most tsunamis are caused by large earthquakes below or near the ocean floor.
    • They can also be caused by landslides, volcanic activity, certain types of weather and near-earth objects (e.g., asteroids, comets).
    • Not all earthquakes cause tsunamis.
  • If you FEEL an Earthquake near the coast, it can create a local tsunami which could arrive in less than one hour. The danger is greatest for local tsunamis because warning time is limited.
  • A distant tsunami is generated far away from a coast, so there is more time to issue and respond to warnings.
  • It can produce unusually strong currents, rapidly flood land and can create problems with transportation, power, communications, and drinking water.

Even though tsunamis happen infrequently, it is still important to prepare for one if you live, work or play on the coast. Here are some things you can do to help protect yourself and your loved ones in case a tsunami ever strikes your community.

Before a Tsunami

Know the tsunami hazard and evacuation zones for areas you live and/or visit.

Shelter Icon

Identify an evacuation location that is on high ground or inland and away from the water accessible by foot.

Evacuation sites should be accessible by walking and not dependent on a vehicle. Practice walking your evacuation routes to make evacuation quicker and easier.

Register for emergency alerts from local public safety officials by clicking here.

During a Tsunami

Beach status and updates

If you are on the beach or near the water and feel an earthquake—no matter how big or how long it lasts—move quickly off the beach to high ground or inland (away from the water) as soon as you can do so safely.

DO NOT WAIT for emergency alerts from local public safety officials.

Walk, do NOT drive.

Stay out of the water and away from beaches and waterways.

Move to higher ground.

Radio Icon

Listen to emergency alerts from local public safety officials, or information from NOAA Weather Radio, local radio, or television for information on what to do and when it may be safe to re-enter an area.

Bullhorn Icon

Stay out of the tsunami hazard or evacuation zone until local public safety officials tell you it is safe to return. The first wave may not be the last or the largest and the danger may last for hours or days.

After a Tsunami

Bullhorn Icon

Stay out of the tsunami hazard or evacuation zone until local public safety officials tell you it is safe.

Unplug Icon

Be aware of dangerous situations such as downed trees, downed power lines, flooding, and debris.

Stay out of any building that has earthquake or tsunami damage or has water around it, until a professional or local official tells you it is safe to enter.

Let your close friends and loved ones know that you are okay.

On a Boat or In the Water

If you are in a boat, then face the direction of the waves and head out to sea.

If you are in the water, grab onto something that floats, such as a raft, tree trunk, or door. Floodwaters may contain debris, chemicals, or waste that are harmful to your health.

If you are in a harbor, then evacuate the boat and walk inland.

Santa Barbara County is recognized by the National Weather Service as TsunamiReady®. TsunamiReady® is a voluntary program that promotes preparedness and collaboration among federal, state/territorial, local emergency management agencies, community leaders, and the public.  This designation means that the County of Santa Barbara, the coastal cities and costal partner agencies have all taken steps to inform our community about tsunami risks and how to stay safe if one was to occur. This includes evacuation signs in tsunami inundation zones, informational signage in coastal areas, educational outreach, etc.

Tsunami Hazard Area Maps

Tsunami Hazard Area maps are developed by subject matter experts from the California Geological Survey (CGS) using multiple assessments, historical data, and risks.  The maps are interactive, allowing users to search their home address, work address or places they visit for fun to assess risk and plan for potential tsunami impacts. The maps have recently been updated (July 2021) to reflect topographical changes since the last update in 2009.

Using new data and improved computer modeling, the California Geological Survey updated the 2009 Tsunami Inundation Maps showing how far inland a surge of seawater might go in a worst-case scenario. Additionally, a small buffer zone beyond the modeled inundation area was included to assist local public safety officials to easily communicate evacuation plans.

Emergency Alerts for Tsunamis

It is important that community members are aware of the terminology and emergency alert terms that may be used for a tsunami and understand what actions they should take if they are near the ocean prior to or during a possible tsunami.

If you are at the coast and feel a strong or long earthquake, see a sudden rise or fall of the ocean or hear a loud roar from the ocean, a tsunami may follow.

This is your warning. Take IMMEDIATE Action.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Tsunami Warning Centers monitor sensors throughout the Pacific Ocean that relay information about the potential for a tsunami following a possible tsunami-generating event. Based on the information from these monitors, the NOAA and local public safety officials will issue the following types of emergency alerts.

NOAA Radio is another way that you can receive emergency notifications for tsunami hazards. NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office.

Tsunami Warning – Take Action: Danger! A tsunami that may cause widespread flooding is expected or occurring. Dangerous coastal flooding and powerful currents are possible and may continue for several hours or days after initial arrival.

Tsunami Advisory – Take Action: A tsunami with potential for strong currents or waves dangerous to those in or very near the water is expected or occurring. There may be flooding of beach and harbor areas.

Tsunami Watch – Be Prepared: A distant earthquake has occurred. A tsunami is possible. (In cases like this, NOAA and local public safety officials will continue to monitor the situation and notify the public IF it is determined that a tsunami is likely to actually occur in your area.)

Tsunami Information Statement – Relax: An earthquake has occurred, but there is no threat or it was very far away and the threat has not been determined. In most cases, there is no threat of a destructive tsunami.

Tsunami Signage

As you explore the beautiful Santa Barbara County coastline, you may see specific signage related to tsunamis.  These signs are standard across the state and help bring awareness to residents and visitors that a tsunami is a potential hazard in the area.  The signs may be used to identify when you have entered a tsunami hazard area, mark evacuation routes, and identify evacuation sites outside of the hazard area. Visitors to the coast should assume a tsunami risk and identify a higher elevation evacuation site regardless of signage.

For More Tools and Information

For additional information about tsunamis and how to prepare your family and home, we encourage you to check out some of these resources:


Contact Office of Emergency Management

4408 Cathedral Oaks Rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93110
Phone: 805-681-5526