Oregon Sea Grant Extension helps coastal community improve tsunami evacuation routes

A sign directs people to seek higher ground on in Newport
A tsunami evacuation sign directs people to seek higher ground in Newport. Photo by Tiffany Woods.

Tsunami evacuation maps were first produced by Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) in 1996 and were updated in 2013. These maps indicate where past tsunami inundations have occurred and which direction to evacuate. However, this information does not consider how the terrain might look after an earthquake or in the dark. A more effective approach is to closely examine the best routes, given local circumstances, and provide a variety of treatments (signs, lights, road strips, etc.) that prompt people to evacuate.

Oregon DOGAMI developed new maps (called “Beat the Wave”) based on topography; and Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) commissioned research on identifying local “tsunami islands” of isolated populations and produced "Up and Out," an Oregon tsunami wayfinding research project. Oregon Sea Grant Extension worked with a local volunteer group (Nehalem Bay Emergency Volunteer Corp) to begin applying these new maps and wayfinding principles locally. This group developed a SMART (specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, timely) plan. Their vision: the greatest number of evacuees get to high ground before the tsunami. The goal: make public beach evacuation routes more obvious to beach goers. And tasks: survey existing signage, walk routes, note issues, consider alternatives, test alternatives; produce and install new signage and markings; and, finally, embark on a campaign of awareness and wayfinding excursions with visitors.

Volunteers walked the mapped routes and noted points of possible confusion or misleading cues that might be addressed. Possible treatments were suggested. These notes were annotated to working maps and forwarded to DOGMI to update existing maps. As awareness increases that many routes are not obvious and even counterintuitive, the demand on OEM for new maps increases. The group identified more than 30 assembly shelter sites in the communities of Manzanita, Nehalem and Wheeler and received $3,000 in local contributions.

Source: Pat Corcoran, the coastal hazards specialist with Oregon Sea Grant and OSU Extension

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