Tuesday night’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake in the Aleutian islands triggered tsunami alerts across a stretch of coastal Alaska, prompting evacuations in communities from Sand Point to Homer.
But according to the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, the quake also resulted in an alert sent to some phones in Anchorage. Geologists have said it is unlikely that an earthquake could generate a large tsunami in Anchorage. And while the overlapping zones for tsunami alerts have, in the past, led to alerts in Anchorage out of an abundance of caution, the Tsunami Warning Center says the one that pinged some phones in Anchorage Tuesday should not have.
Tsunami Warning Coordinator Dave Snider says the National Weather Service, which sends alerts through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, made changes this March so that tsunami alerts would not go to Anchorage residents when it was inappropriate. Snider says it’s still unclear why AT&T customers in Anchorage, and possibly the customers of other cellular services, got the alerts Tuesday night.
“I’m very concerned about that, and that would go for any type of alert,” Snider said. “If you’re getting a message that doesn’t apply to you, the ‘cry wolf’ issue is certainly alive and present. And we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to eliminate that and only show you things that matter to you when it matters, because the danger of that is that when it does matter you’ll think it doesn’t and won’t react.”
Snider says the Tsunami Warning Center, the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the various cellular service providers in Alaska are continuing to look at what happened and working on a fix.