The California Geological Survey is working on maps that will help the state’s coastal communities prepare for future tsunami emergencies, agency officials said today.

Within the next three years, the agency will release the land-use planning maps, or “worst-case scenario” maps, CGS engineering geologist Rick Wilson said.

The maps were already in the works, but today’s announcement comes in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Japan on March 11 that sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean. The waves caused damage in several coastal communities, including Santa Cruz, where 18 boats sank at the local harbor. It also comes during Tsunami Awareness and Preparedness Week.

The maps are similar to the flood maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency puts out, but these will only map potential tsunami impacts. In December 2009, 130 maximum tsunami inundation maps were released to the public, available through Google Earth.

The new maps are intended to serve as guides for land-use decisions in coastal communities, and will identify specific hazards in those communities as well as point out “safe zones” for residents.

The CGS is working with maritime communities and harbormasters, especially in high-hazard areas such as Santa Cruz and Crescent City, to provide guidance and infrastructure planning, Wilson said.

The agency has put teams into the field to collect data from state park lands and beaches. By meeting with harbormasters and reviewing questionnaires, the CGS is learning specific needs of local areas, Wilson said.

Many harbors are prepared for a tsunami, but many residents on the California coast were in their boats when the recent tsunami waves hit – either as spectators or trying to bring their boats to safety, Wilson said. That is a problem, he said.

Twenty California counties and more than 100 cities could be directly affected by a tsunami, Wilson said.

In Santa Cruz, an educational event is planned for tonight at 7 p.m. The event was planned before the Japan tsunami, but ended up being well-timed, Santa Cruz County Health Services spokesperson Corinne Highland said.

The meeting will cover tsunami readiness, with University of California at Santa Cruz experts speaking. Inundation maps will be posted, and a radiation expert may join the event in light of the Japan disaster, Highland said.

The event, which is taking place in the Community Room of the Santa Cruz Police Department at 155 Center St., has generated strong community interest, especially with the opportunity for residents to see maps of the most at-risk tsunami areas in the region, Highland said.

The California Senate Select Committee on Earthquake and Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery was scheduled to hold a hearing earlier today in Sacramento on disaster preparedness in California. The hearing was also scheduled to touch on nuclear power plant emergency safety.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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