Kin Town residents, Marines practice tsunami evacuation
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Kin Town residents and Marines participated in a tsunami response drill Nov. 5 at Camp Hansen to increase the two communities’ readiness in the event of a natural disaster.
Although similar drills have taken place in the past, this was the first exercise since a local disaster response agreement was signed in September between Camp Hansen and Kin Town. The agreement provides Kin Town residents and emergency personnel access to Camp Hansen facilities for training and during a natural disaster.
“Engaging in this drill helps build up communication with the Kin Town office and with the other community offices,” said Maj. Andrew A. Merz, operations officer for Camp Hansen. “It was to show we are not separate from the local community, we are part of it.”
A tsunami is a series of ocean waves caused by seismic activity under the ocean floor. The first wave is often times not the most powerful, successive waves can reach a height of over 100 feet, speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.
“The reason we did the drill today is because November 5th is designated as National Tsunami Awareness Day,” said Masaru Nago, a volunteer with the Disaster Preparedness Team of Kin Town.
The drills improved the communication between the Marine Corps, Kin Town Emergency Personnel, the Ishi Kawa Police and the local community leaders responsible for disaster response, according to Nago, from Kin Town.
“Today we had our initial tsunami response drill with Kin Town, which is the first time we’ve practiced with the locals since the agreement was signed two months ago,” said Merz, from Lansing, Michigan.
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake created a tsunami Tōhoku that struck northeastern Japan. Marine Corps officials understand the devastating power of a tsunami and the need to practice evacuation drills with the community.
“Anything that you do, if you practice it and scout the route ahead of time, it gives you a sense of security,” said Merz. “When something actually does happen, you react that much faster.”
For the exercise, community members gathered outside of Camp Hansen’s Gate 4 before entering with Marines and other officials. Residents from district 22 and 23 in Kin Town took part in the simulated evacuation.
“Exercises like this are like fire drills, you have to keep doing them so you know where to go, how to react and how to get to safety in an orderly manner,” said Lance Cp. Matthew R. Janniche, a motor vehicle operator with Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “If a tsunami actually happens, now they know where to go, what to do, and not panic.”
Camp Hansen is the highest point near Kin Town so it is a key evacuation route for the local residents, according to Janniche, from Indianapolis, Indiana.
Towards the end of the drill, Marines showed the residents the alternative gate to provide a secondary entrance point.
“I think overall it went well,” said Merz. “We had some areas that we can work on, but we learned some names and faces of the local community leaders. Now that we have met leaders of those communities outside the gate, it will make future drills go more smoothly.”