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Research

Some Coastal Communities May Not Have Time for Tsunami Evacuation



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Tens of thousands of people along the U.S. Pacific Northwest coastline may not have enough time to evacuate low-lying areas before tsunami waves arrive, according to a new publication by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), University of Colorado Boulder, and California State University, Sacramento.

Internationally adopted tsunami-evacuation sign in the city of Nehalem, Oregon.
Above: Internationally adopted tsunami-evacuation sign in the city of Nehalem, Oregon. [larger version]

“All coastal communities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest are vulnerable to varying degrees to tsunami hazards from a Cascadia subduction-zone earthquake,” said Nathan Wood, lead author of the study and scientist with the USGS. “Having a better sense of how a community is specifically vulnerable provides officials with the ability to develop outreach, preparedness, and evacuation plans that are tailored to local conditions and needs.” 

The authors detailed their findings in the April 28, 2015, issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“Community clusters of tsunami vulnerability in the US Pacific Northwest”). They examined the 49 cities, seven tribal reservations, and 17 counties from northern California through northern Washington that are directly threatened by tsunami waves that could be generated by a future Cascadia subduction-zone earthquake. The scientists evaluated the number of people or businesses exposed to tsunami hazards, as well as demographics and evacuation time by foot for each of these communities. (Read about a USGS mapping tool for estimating pedestrian evacuation time in Sound Waves, January/February 2015, “Getting Out of Harm’s Way—Evacuation from Tsunamis.”)

In their analysis, the scientists found that coastal communities fall into one of three groups differentiated by the size of their population and the time it would take to safely evacuate people. Communities in the first group have relatively small populations in tsunami-hazard zones and likely have sufficient time to evacuate, suggesting the need for tsunami education. A second group of communities has large populations in tsunami-hazard zones and likely will have sufficient time to evacuate if people are able to move quickly, suggesting a need for evacuation training. The third group of communities has moderate-sized populations in tsunami-hazard zones and insufficient time for everyone to evacuate before wave arrival, suggesting the need for solutions such as vertical-evacuation refuges.

Map showing the time it would take to walk to a safe area in low-lying Ocean Shores, Washington, to avoid a tsunami
Above: Map showing the time it would take to walk to a safe area in low-lying Ocean Shores, Washington, to avoid a tsunami. If a Cascadia subduction-zone earthquake occurred, the corresponding tsunami could arrive in less than 25 minutes. Black symbols represent proposed vertical evacuation sites, which would offer more people access to closer safe areas. From USGS Top Story, “Preparing Communities for the Next Great Tsunami.” [larger version]

“This new research confirms the underlying need for continuing the important public-education efforts to ensure coastal residents know how to reach safety in the event of a tsunami,” said John Schelling, Earthquake & Tsunami Program Manager for the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division. “Perhaps more importantly, this research confirms the need for continued implementation of the multiagency collaboration known as ‘Project Safe Haven’ and ensuring communities on the Washington Coast have tsunami vertical-evacuation refuges, from which to escape a tsunami.”

“Identifying communities with similar tsunami-hazard vulnerabilities will build a regional network among officials to share success stories of risk reduction and create opportunities for collaboration,” said Wood. “Our goal was to provide officials with actionable information for saving lives with community-specific interventions.”

The full study is available online at “Community clusters of tsunami vulnerability in the US Pacific Northwest.”

The USGS is leading studies of community vulnerability to various natural hazards through its Land Change Science Program. For further information on this study and other current projects across the United States, visit the USGS Risk and Vulnerability to Natural Hazards project.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Getting Out of Harm’s Way—Evacuation from Tsunamis
January / February 2015
Geologic Evidence of Past Tsunamis in California
July / August 2014
The 2010 Chilean Tsunami and Uncertainty in Tsunami Modeling
April 2010
Tsunami-Forecasting System Tested by Recent Subduction-Zone Earthquakes
April 2007

Related Websites
Community clusters of tsunami vulnerability in the US Pacific Northwest
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Land Change Science Program
USGS
Risk and Vulnerability to Natural Hazards project
USGS

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in this issue:

Fieldwork
Scientists Investigate the Virtually Unexplored Mariana Trench

Expedition Explores Deep-Sea Areas near Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Imaging Methane Seeps and Plumes on the U.S. Atlantic Margin

Research
Some Communities May Not Have Time for Tsunami Evacuation

Spotlight on Sandy
Mendenhall Postdoc Joins Estuarine Physical Response Project

Meetings
Spring 2015 Monterey Bay Marine GIS User Group Meeting

Awards
Amanda Demopoulos Receives USGS Leadership Award

Fran Lightsom Receives Leadership and Innovation Award for Data Integration

Jim Hein Receives DOI Distinguished Service Award

Jim Jacobi Receives DOI Distinguished Service Award

Staff
Cheryl Hapke Is New Director of St. Petersburg, Florida, Science Center

Publications New Maps Reveal Seafloor off San Francisco

March–June Publications

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