At the end of last week, the Prefecture of the Alpes-Maritimes formally tested out its tsunami warning procedure via the department’s FR-Alert system. Up and down the coast, phones buzzed and rang loudly to inform residents of a “major” threat, but while it was a fictional event this time, there is a strong probability of a tsunami in the Mediterranean in the years to come.
According to UNESCO, there is a nearly 100% chance of a tsunami with a wave of over a metre in height hitting the Mediterranean coastline in the next 30 years. Indeed, since 1600BCE, there have been at least 290 tsunamis recorded in the Mediterranean, a region that is home to 500 million people.
The most recent threat to the south of France and Monaco occurred in 2003, when an underwater earthquake just off the Algerian coast caused a minor tsunami. Thankfully, the damage locally was minimal.
‘Tsunami Ready’ certification
On Friday 19th January, the same day that thousands in the Alpes-Maritimes received the tsunami alert on their phones, UNESCO Technical Secretary for the Mediterranean Denis Chang Seng officially recognised Cannes as being ‘Tsunami Ready’ under the organisation’s Tsunami Recognition Programme.
The certification acknowledges the efforts that have been made by the city and its mayor, David Lisnard, to prepare Cannes for an incoming tsunami over the last few years. These include the large-scale testing of alert systems and the emergency service response, and the installation of public evacuation notices.
Since 2018, Cannes has been recognised by France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs as a “model city” with regards to its population protections.
“This distinction obtained by Cannes is a first in the Mediterranean and in mainland France,” said Lisnard at the ‘Tsunami Ready’ ceremony. “It is recognition of the concrete municipal approach to the anticipation and management of these natural phenomena [that was] initiated in 2014… Thanks to this methodical work and the sharing of information regarding appropriate reactions with all stakeholders, potentially dramatic events can be better understood. Our priority is to limit material damage and, above all, to avoid human losses.”
Globally, 44 cities have the same ‘Tsunami Ready’ status, although they are predominately in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.
Photo credit: Mairie de Cannes