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Marine Corps false alarm tsunami siren triggers evacuations

U.S. Marines. (Giancarlo Mollicone/Marine Corps Air Station Miramar)
January 23, 2024

At around 6 p.m. on Friday, January 19, a tsunami warning siren blasted through the air at Camp Foster, Okinawa, triggering evacuation procedures. Approximately an hour after the tsunami warning was issued, however, Marine Corps Installations Pacific (MCIPAC) posted a notice to their Facebook page that the siren had been in error. 

According to Stars and Stripes, Lt. Col. Dan Huvane, Marine Corps spokesperson, confirmed that the siren had sounded due to an unspecified malfunction that was quickly corrected.

“Our Marines, sailors, civilians, and families place a great deal of trust in us to provide timely notification of potential emergencies, and it’s a top priority of the command to maintain that trust,” Huvane said.

Service members and the local community were also notified by mass email and text messages to disregard the siren. 

Japan has a long history of tsunamis. In early March 2011, following a 9.0 earthquake, a 140-foot tsunami ravaged much of Japan’s northern coastline. The tsunami damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, resulting in a nuclear meltdown. U.S. Forces stationed in Japan quickly launched Operation Tomodachi, an assistance operation to provide disaster relief and aid to Japan.

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From March 12, 2011, to May 4, 2011, 24,000 service members provided 189 aircraft and 24 naval ships to disaster relief. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma relocated temporarily to NAF Atsugi to provide search and rescue support. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit responded to Northern Japan, providing humanitarian relief, food, and water while conducting debris removal operations. 

The earthquake and resulting tsunami remain one of the worst natural disasters to impact the area, with an estimated 20,000 casualties. 

Following the disaster, in August 2012, MCIPAC conducted the first test of a new tsunami warning system. The alarm is designed to sound a flat, steady tone for 30 seconds, followed by a verbal warning in both Japanese and English. Once sounded, the alarm repeats every hour until the threat of a tsunami has passed. Okinawa is considered to be at high risk for tsunamis, given both its geographical positioning and areas of relatively low elevation above sea level. In the event of a tsunami, all residents of Okinawa, including military personnel, are directed to seek ground higher than 60 feet above sea level.