Tsunamis: Before, During & After

Tsunami sweeping through residential area

Tsunamis can hit people in coastal areas within minutes after a severe earthquake. The best way to protect yourself and your family in case of a tsunami is to follow these steps:

Follow instructions and evacuate when told to do so, in case of a long/strong earthquake: 
  • Move to higher ground.
  • Stay away from coast, tidal estuaries, rivers and streams; if at sea, stay there until “all clear” is issued.
  • Be aware of secondary hazards such as landslides, flooding and mudflows.


  • Find out if your home, school, workplace or other frequently visited locations are in tsunami hazard areas. For high risk areas, know the earthquake and tsunami plans for each location. 
  • Contact your municipality to know the risks, evacuation and alerting system in your community. Know the sound of the alert and make sure all in your family are familiar with it and what to do. Sign up for local alerts.
  • For up-to-date information from coast to coast to coast, the Government of Canada and the Canadian National Seismograph Network monitor significant earthquake reports in Canada. 
  • Make a personalized preparedness emergency kit. Families should be prepared to be self-sustaining for at least three days.
  • Kits should include practical items such as drinking water, food, cash, and a portable radio. However, they should also include items that are unique to your own families’ needs. This could include baby items, medical prescriptions, pet food, etc.
  • If you have already dipped into your emergency kit and food supply while staying at home, consider safely getting the supplies to replenish it following your local public health authorities’ guidelines for leaving your residence.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic also add hygiene items such as hand sanitizer and non-medical masks to your kit to keep your family safe during an evacuation. 

Know the difference between a tsunami warning and a tsunami watch:

  • A tsunami warning means a tsunami may have been generated and could be close to your area. A full evacuation is suggested. 
  • A tsunami watch means a tsunami has not yet been verified but could exist and may be as little as an hour away. Stay alert for more information.
  • Review evacuation plans with household members. Be prepared ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. 
  • Plan evacuation routes to areas 30 metres above sea level or 3 kilometres inland. If you can’t, go as high and as far away as you can. You should be able to reach your safe location on foot within 15 minutes.


If you feel an earthquake, drop, cover and hold:
  • Drop: drop to the ground before the earthquake causes you to fall. 
    Take cover under a piece of heavy furniture such as a desk or table to protect your head and torso from falling objects.
  • Hold: hold onto the object you are under so that you remain covered. 
Be aware of the signs of a tsunami: 
  • A strong earthquake lasting 20 seconds or more near the coast. 
  • A noticeable rapid rise or fall of coastal waters. 
  • Coastal water making unusual noise. The noise may sounds like an approaching train, plane, or whistling. 
  • Following an earthquake, move quickly to higher ground away from the coast. In case of a tsunami warning,  be prepared ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. 
  • Follow posted evacuation routes, where present. Take your animals with you but do not delay your evacuation to collect them. 
  • A tsunami is a series of waves that can continue for hours and the next waves may be larger than earlier ones. Do not assume that after one wave, the danger is over. If you cannot evacuate to higher ground, evacuate vertically to a higher floor, onto a roof, up a tree, or grab a floating object. 
  • If you are at sea, stay there. Boats are generally safer in water deeper than 20 metres. Ships are safest on high seas in water deeper than 100 metres. 
  • Watching a tsunami could put you in grave danger. If you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it. 
  • Monitor the tsunami’s progress and listen for warnings or instructions from local officials. If you are safe when the first tsunami hits, stay put until authorities declare all is safe as more waves may follow.


Continue to take precautions and listen to and follow directions from local authorities.
  • Be prepared for aftershocks, which could generate another tsunami. 
  • Return home only after local officials tell you it is safe. A tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that after one wave the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first one. 
  • Be aware of secondary effects. These include landslides, contaminated water, mudflows, damaged bridges, buildings and roads, and other hazards. 
  • Only make calls if you require emergency services.
  • Stay out of any building that has water around it. Tsunami force can cause floors to crack or walls to collapse. 
  • If you suspect your home is unsafe, do not enter. Rely on the professionals to clear your home for re-entry, if you are unsure. 
  • Do not light matches or turn on lights or appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks or flammable liquids spilled. Avoid use of contaminated water.
  • Place a HELP sign in your window if you need assistance.
  • Experiencing a disaster is challenging enough, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it can feel even more difficult. The Red Cross has many resources available to help you navigate these challenging times. You can also find mental and emotional wellbeing resources on the Public Health Agency of Canada, or any provincial/territorial health authority website.

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