Every Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m., Kodiak residents hear the siren’s call, a weekly reminder of a potential threat.
"You know it's a test if you hear it,” said Jack Maker, an assistant planner for the Kodiak Island Borough. “Any other time you know it’s not a test – it’s the real thing.”
The reality is an earthquake and a tsunami could hit Kodiak at any time, like one did 50 years ago when a 9.2 quake triggered waves around Alaska as high as 30 feet.
The waves crashed into Kodiak and coastal villages, killing 19 people on the island that day.
Today, Sue Jeffrey works on a project for the Kodiak College, where she is archiving personal accounts of what happened that Good Friday. Among the many stories, Jeffrey says one man talked about how he got caught by the tsunami in his boat.
"He ended up starting up another skiff and riding the tsunami into the middle of town and then picking up people along the way," Jeffrey said.
The account acts as a reminder of Mother Nature’s destructive power that residents don't want to see again.
Maker points out that Kodiak is leading the way in securing pre-disaster funding for seismic retrofits to its schools which would be used as shelters. The borough holds weekly town hall meetings. It also applies federal emergency training for all key personnel.
"We do our best to ensure that our community will bounce back from such an event as quickly as possible," Maker said. "That system or that training will actually increase our effectiveness with regards to managing the next earthquake or tsunami event."
That training came in handy when a recent landslide ripped through town, causing only minor damage. It was the proactive approach that has helped the borough prepare for any potential emergency.
Warning systems in Kodiak are operated by different entities with different purposes, for different reasons. For example, the tsunami warning sirens are only controlled by local officials. In other parts of Alaska, the state controls the system.
James Brooks recently wrote the book "Kodiak and the World's Second Largest Earthquake." It focuses on how the disaster impacted the island.
"You really have to rely on yourself, especially on an island because help when it arrives won't arrive quickly under the best intentions," Brooks said.
As part of its preparedness, Kodiak is participating in the statewide shield emergency exercise that will be based on a mock earthquake and tsunami event similar to the 1964 earthquake. It will happen March 28 in Kodiak and around the state with live drills, shelters opening, and a mass casualty exercise where people will be loaded on a plane and flown off the island.