VICTORIA -- If you are near the coast of Vancouver Island and you just felt an earthquake or were warned a tsunami may be approaching, move to higher ground immediately.

That is just one of the messages first responders across the island are sharing during Tsunami Preparedness Week. From April 12 to 16, emergency agencies will be providing tips on how to stay safe if massive damaging waves from a tsunami reach our shores.

“The good news is the risk for tsunamis here (in Greater Victoria) is quite low, but it is still a risk, and it is important to know where that risk area is and what to do if it happens,” said City of Victoria emergency programs coordinator Tanya Patterson.

“Understand your risks and have a plan on how you will move to higher ground and connect with your family and friends,” she said.

Tsunamis are most often caused by large undersea earthquakes that displace massive amounts of water which create a series of large waves. Patterson says some tsunamis can also be caused by coastal landslides.

“Here in the Capital Region a number of things can cause a tsunami. Typically, it would be a felt earthquake,” said Patterson. “We have also done some (tsunami) modelling from an earthquake that wasn’t felt, like one in Alaska or Japan, to determine our risk in the region.”

Patterson says the purpose of Tsunami Preparedness Week is to encourage people to be aware of the risks of tsunamis and to highlight what people should do in the event of one.

Tsunamis caused by distant quakes may take hours to arrive on the shores of Vancouver Island, but those caused by seismic events that originate close by could generate massive damaging waves in minutes.

Though the threat from a tsunami may be low, if one were to reach coastal B.C. the consequences would be both catastrophic and deadly.

“The number one message for our region is, if you feel a strong earthquake with significant shaking and you are in a tsunami hazard area, you should move to higher ground,” said Patterson. “In our region that may not be very far, because at four metres as the highest elevation you would need to get to, that may just be a few streets over to get away from the water.”

Patterson says it is an important message, especially after a tsunami warning was posted in B.C. after a massive quake occurred in Alaska in January 2018. She says the 8.0 magnitude quake and the resulting warning caused some concern for residents across Vancouver Island.

“A lot of people didn’t know what to do and unnecessarily panicked and got in their vehicles and drove to the top of Mount Tolmie,” said Patterson. “It actually caused more panic and more issues for first responders by clogging up the roads.”

Patterson says by knowing if you live in a tsunami hazard area, having “grab-and-go-bag” of essential supplies, and knowing where to go to reach higher ground, you will increase your chances of staying safe during a tsunami event.

Costal communities in B.C. are divided into five tsunami notification zones. Knowing your zone will help when a warning, an advisory or a watch is issued for your area.

If a tsunami notification is issued in your zone, it will be broadcast on television, radio and mobile devices through the BC Alert Ready notification system. Some municipalities on Vancouver Island have alerting systems, such as sirens, and may share information on social media platforms or by text message.

“If you are in Victoria we would issue a Vic-Alert with a specific map of the hazard areas,” said Patterson. “We would then tell people where to go and how to get there, but you would receive more local specific information from your local alert system.”

During Tsunami Preparedness Week the key message is to be ready if a tsunami hits and know in advance how to remain safe.

“Understand your risks and have a plan for what to do,” said Patterson.

More information on tsunami preparedness can be found on the EmergencyInfoBC website