When/How Readers Learned of the Tsunami

By Dave Fratello | March 18th, 2011
Our thanks go to MBC readers for participating in a poll that may have seemed a bit off-topic, less so the closer you happen to live to the beach.

We were curious how people got information about last Friday's tsunami warning, and if that information was timely. Officially, the first waves were expected at about 8:30am.

The responses we got provide some interesting insight into media habits, while showing that nearly 9 out of 10 poll respondents did receive timely warning through whatever means.

Let's look first at how people got the news.

If you work in a field related to mass com- munications (as your blog author does in his "real job"), the dominance of TV as an information source should be no surprise. Yes, the internet is big and ever-present, but the boob tube is still king. About one-third of our readers (32%) reported that they heard about the local tsunami warning from a big glowing screen.

We've grouped 4 different internet communications channels in shades of blue here. Taken together, they add up to just about the same percentage, with 31% saying they got the word online. The smaller glowing screens, in other words, were just about as important as the big ones.

Of these methods, we'd say that 3 of the 4 (email, Twitter and Facebook, making up 17%) were what we'd call "passive" communications where the recipient was told by someone else about the tsunami, whereas the 14% saying they learned through "other" online sources probably had reached out to news sources and found the information there.

Our chart separates "phone" and "in-person contact," though you could argue that those are variations of the same thing – a friend or relative saying, "did you hear?" Together, those 2 methods total 28%.

So, for the big categories, that's roughly one-third TV, one-third internet and one-third personal contact.

Radio was way down on this list, at 6%. As a former radio guy, your blog author has to kind of mourn the passing of the importance of radio as an information source. You'd have to have had the radio on to get first word there, but that's less and less common, except in the car. (Of course, people may have tuned to NPR or KFWB or the like later to get updates once they knew of the news.)

Was the news delivered timely? For most readers, definitely yes.

Apparently the bulk of our readers are surfers and/or financial industry folks, given that 59% of you reported getting the news before 7:00am. (There may be a few other reasons to be up and consuming information so early.)

About a quarter (27% combined) first got the news between 7:00-8:30am, just enough time to be aware of the potential threat and/or get to higher ground, if that seemed to be warranted.

And we now know that if the tsunami had been something significant and had hit on time at 8:30, about 11% of our readers would have been utterly surprised; perhaps some of them would have been underwater.

A couple of tidbits. We spoke to someone who was on The Strand last Friday at 8:30am and who witnessed a major pullback of the water, perhaps 150 feet, around that time. A sudden tidal drop like that is recognized as the precursor to a tsunami hitting. However, no more than 3 waves of interest seemed to roll in thereafter, and the tides returned to normal shortly. We don't have to tell you that the South Bay was lucky this time – points north in California took a beating.

We'll also note that the MB Unified School District has just started up a new warning system. Evidently people mostly did not get warnings or information from the schools last week in a timely fashion. (A commenter on MBC's prior story on this subject had a specific complaint on that.) A test message sent out Thursday (yesterday) hit email inboxes, home phones and who knows what else (there was talk of text messaging capability as well).

So in the future, if you want to be wired in for emergency warnings, either have a kid in the schools, or stay friendly with those who do.

We'll pass along the results of our informal survey here to a few sources who might find the data useful. Our thanks again for your participation.

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