Officials from the coastal Oregon town of Cannon Beach visited Oregon State University’s Hinsdale Wave Research Center this week to get a first-hand look at how a proposed new city hall and tsunami survival center might work.
Researcher Dan Cox showed off a scale model of the structure – and all of downtown Cannon Beach – and then pounded it with scale-model waves in one of the Hinsdale Center’s massive wave-generating tanks.
Cannon Beach is one of many coastal communities trying to come up with plans to save lives and property should the Oregon Coast be struck by a tsunami. Scientists say it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” – and recent studies suggest that the region is overdue.
Along with warning systems, evacuation routes and public education, Cannon Beach is hoping to get federal funds to build a new, $4 million city hall that would stand on 15-foot-high tsunami-resistant pilings and provide safe refuge for people unable to evacuate the downtown area. Their hope is that by putting city services in a building that can survive a tsunami, they would be better prepared to manage the emergency response to such a disaster.
It would be the first such structure in the United States; the Japanese have built similar structures, but none has yet been tested in an actual tsunami.
Accompanying the Cannon Beach delegation to OSU was Patrick Corcoran, Oregon Sea Grant’s coastal hazards specialist, who has been working with coastal communities to help them develop and improve tsunami disaster planning.
“Every community from Cape Mendocino in California to Vancouver Island in Canada is vulnerable to some extent to the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunamis,” said Corcoran, “This is arguably the greatest recurring natural hazard in the lower 48 states. Our cities are not engineered to deal with it and our residents are not prepared for it. We need evacuation routes, assembly sites, public education and outreach. And in some places, we need vertical evacuation structures. The only way to potentially save thousands of lives is through more education and better engineering.”
Sea Grant has supported a number of research projects at the Hinsdale Center, including a current effort by civil engineering professor Dr. Harry Yeh to better understand how the shape of the seafloor immediately offshore can amplify the effects of big waves on specific communities.