Share this story...
tsunami evacuation
Latest News

Tsunami evacuation towers could save thousands in coastal towns

A tsunami refuge tower at Shonan Beach in Japan. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

It’s safe to say that Washingtonians are experiencing a bit of Cascadia megaquake fatigue, and are tired of being reminded of vague impending doom. Aside from panicking, our natural instinct is to seek high ground. But standing on a chair is not going to do it.

RELATED: Megaquake watch: Northwest is under a lot of pressure right now

That’s where tsunami evacuation towers come in. A collaboration between Washington State Emergency Management Division and the University of Washington, the Tsunami Project Safe Haven seeks to install vertical elevation structures in areas where natural high ground is lacking.

At the moment, the only one in North America was built in 2016 in Westport, as part of the new Ocosta Elementary School.

Officials are seeking out additional sites in Ocean Shores, Clallam County, and Pacific County. The absence of time and high ground in vulnerable communities near the coast necessitates the creation of these structures. They would need to be reached within fifteen minutes of the earthquake. That’s why they have parking lots.

How tsunami evacuation towers work

What exactly is a vertical elevation structure? Resembling a futuristic-looking bird watching tower, the tsunami evacuation structures are a simple elevated platform with a safe haven area. They’re typically held up by a four-legged base above stabilizing grade beams.

It differs from a shelter because it’s meant to be short term, so you wouldn’t have time to hang pictures or order delivery. The height and strength of the buildings can withstand wave and debris impact. An open system underneath allows water to flow through without disturbing the structure. Good to know.

“Intentionally designing any type of structure to serve as a tsunami safe haven is a relatively new concept for the United States. No official guidance for engineers or planners existed until late 2008,” the Tsunami Project Safe Haven report states.

The projected 9.0 magnitude quake will create up to five minutes of intense shaking, and a mass tsunami should hit 20 minutes later. It was 1,700 AD when the last Cascadia earthquake triggered such a tsunami around these parts.

They didn’t have vertical elevation structures back then. But with several likely to be built along the coast, thousands of people will find safety, and have a great view, too.

To learn more, visit the Washington State Emergency Management Division blog.

Most Popular