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La Jolla installing tsunami evacuation route signs

If a tsunami ever comes, La Jolla and the rest of San Diego will be ready for it — which wasn’t true in 2006, when a San Diego County Grand Jury report found the city “inadequately prepared” to offer advance warning to evacuate in case of a tidal wave.

More than three years later, that shortcoming is finally being rectified.

The city of San Diego Tsunami Evacuation Signage Project has identified more than 50 sites for emergency sign placement along the city’s 70-mile coastline.

Ten of those signs in and around La Jolla Shores are currently being installed. They direct traffic away from tsunami inundation areas detailed in maps provided by the National Weather Service and the State of California Emergency Management Agency.

Officials say those maps reflect recent advances in tsunami research, more accurately predicting where and how far inland tsunamis could penetrate along the coast. They show “inundation lines” where water from a tsunami could go, enabling localities to develop corresponding “evacuation lines.”

“We have prepared a response plan and an evacuation plan, and we really want to get the word out to people about the location of the signs,” said John Sandmeyer, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department lifeguard sergeant who’s briefing La Jolla community advisory groups this month on the status of city tsunami preparedness. “It is up to each city to come up with their own (evacuation) plan to be considered a tsunami-ready city.”

The city applied for a grant to fund the new tsunami signage, said Sandmeyer, who wrote a tsunami action plan for the Fire-Rescue Department detailing citizen evacuation plans and how flood rescue personnel and equipment would be deployed.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other mass movements above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.

Earthquake-driven tsunamis are the ones San Diego is most concerned about and are preparing for, said Donna Faller, program manager for the city of San Diego’s Office of Homeland Security.

San Diego’s Office of Homeland Security.

“We are a major earthquake area: We do plan for that as a potential hazard,” Faller said, adding that tsunami coastal flooding has been added to the list of other hazards, such as wildfires, that city emergency services are preparing for. “We’re planning for the maximum size of 12 meters (more than 36 feet) in our inundation flood areas.”

Tsunami warning signs are simple but direct — and needed, Faller said.

“Everyone knows to move to higher ground, but not everyone knows the direction,” she noted. “These signs show you the direction you need to be moving in that many people, especially visitors, may not know.”

Faller added that tsunami signs are being placed on already installed poles to minimize installation costs.

Tsunami inundation map

Frequently Asked Questions for Emergency Managers

2009 Tsunami Council Map

Sites in La Jolla where tsunami warning signs are proposed:

13048 N. Torrey Pines

12998 N. Torrey Pines

12548 Torrey Pines Park

8600 La Jolla Shores Drive

8451 Camino del Oro

8390 El Paseo Grande

8390 Camino del Oro

2100 Avenida de la Playa

2298 Avenida de la Playa