Tsunami Preparation Tips

A tsunami is a seismic sea wave (a series of waves caused by an earthquake or landslide) that can cause devastation to coastal areas. They used to be inaccurately referred to as tidal waves, which are shallow water waves caused by the earth's gravitational pull.

They don't always come with a warning. Depending on how close you are to the event that triggers the tsunami, you might not have any official orders to evacuate or even any warning. Preparation is the key. Anyone living on the coast, especially near the beach, should be ready for big waves.

Tsunami evacuation route sign with a blue sky and clouds in the background
Bryan Mullennix / Getty Images

Before a Tsunami

Since you might not have much (or any) warning, preparing for a tsunami is a bit like preparing for an earthquake. You have to have your disaster supplies ready. Build or purchase a ​disaster kit. Have a communication plan.

Planning is key. Know where you will go and where you will shelter in the event of a tsunami — make sure it's somewhere uphill and as far inland as possible, away from the coast. Your community might have predetermined evacuation routes. If so, know the routes and the alternatives in case the routes get jammed with cars.

How far are you above sea level? You should know how far you have to evacuate to be out of the way of the water. To be safe, you should be at least 100 feet above sea level or one mile away when the first wave hits. Unfortunately, it's not that simple and even being 100 feet up won't guarantee survival. So don't stop at 100 feet if you can help it.

Visiting the Coast

Tourists should be aware that tsunamis are possible anywhere close to the water. Depending on the construction, you might be able to survive a wave by evacuating vertically to the third floor and higher in some buildings. Stay above the third floor when visiting coastal areas, especially those prone to seismic activity.

A Tsunami Is Coming

If you are in a coastal area and feel an earthquake, listen to the radio or TV for possible evacuation orders. Follow any orders issued by authorities without hesitation. Take your animals with you. Try to warn neighbors and assist those who might need it (elderly, disabled or very young).

Leave your stuff! Possessions can be replaced, even sentimental things. There's no reason to put yourself at risk for objects. Never go nearer to the water to see what the tsunami looks like. Experts say if you can see the wave, you're too close. If you are at the beach and see the water receding abnormally far, evacuate immediately! Disaster can happen before authorities have time to warn you.

After a Tsunami

Don't return home until authorities have announced that it is safe to do so. Tsunamis bring multiple waves and it might take a long time for the water to recede enough to be safe.

Go to a shelter if it isn't safe to return home. FEMA has a program to let you find shelters by text message. Text "SHELTER" plus your zip code to 43362 to find the nearest shelter in your area. Don't drink tap water in areas that have been flooded during any disaster unless authorities say it is safe to drink. Be aware of other health risks that may be announced.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of the Interior. What is the difference between a tsunami and a tidal wave?

  2. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Tsunamis.

  3. FEMA. Text messages.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.