Could a tsunami strike the Grand Strand?

Wednesday at 9:04 a.m., residents along the east coast of the United States will hear the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's (NOAA) tsunami test.

The test allows NOAA's National Weather Service along with its partners to test their lines of communication during the threat of a tsunami.

"Tsunami is different than hurricanes because the idea is just to get people out of the beach way," said Horry County Emergency Management Director Randy Webster. "We have to coordinate that with all the municipalities and all the public safety in order to get several hundred thousand people off the beach in relatively short order."

Webster was instrumental in making Horry County the first county in South Carolina to be deemed "tsunami ready" by NOAA.

"We understand that we have a 6 to 8 hour window from the initial warnings to when a tsunami would reach us, and depth is anywhere from 6 to 8 feet from what we understand," said Webster. "That's plenty of time to get people off the beach. We don't have to get them inland. We just have to get them off the beach itself when those waves start coming in."

"As rare as that might be, if something like that hit the Myrtle Beach (area) during the tourist season, it could be catastrophic," said Coastal Carolina University Associate Professor of Physical Oceanography Louis Keiner. "It may be a rare event as rare as earthquakes are in this area. But it's something that could happen, and we have to be ready for it."

NOAA's warning system includes buoys place in the Atlantic Ocean that can track the height and speed of a tsunami.

"What these buoys do is they measure water levels," said Keiner. "So if there is an earthquake than NOAA can actually track the path of the tsunami, where the waves are at any certain time."

Keiner said if a tsunami does strike the Grand Strand, it would most likely originate from the Puerto Rican Trench.

A tsunami caused by an earthquake from that trench would generate a wall of water that would only reach the top of the sand dunes, said Keiner.

"It's something we have to be aware of and something that we may have to worry about. But it would be very very rare," said Keiner. "But if it does happen people should stay away from the beach."

Keiner said there are many and much more powerful tsunamis produced in the Pacific Ocean than the Atlantic Ocean.

"No matter what coast you live on, it's extremely important to be aware of tsunamis and how they're formed and what to do in the rare event that we have one."