Tsunami-proof building plans raise questions, stir debate

Simulated tsunami tests building designsCANNON BEACH, Ore. – It would cost twice as much and there’s no precedent anywhere in the United States for how to fund such a structure. Everyone agrees it would save lives. There’s not much doubt about that. And in light of the tragedy unfolding in Japan, it seems to make perfect sense.

It would be a new city hall, a very rugged building on concrete stilts. But it still hasn’t been built.

This debate and quandary raises awkward questions, such as how many people would die in a tsunami, how much it would cost to prevent that, what approaches would work best and who should pay for them. The debate centers on what would be the nation’s first structure designed to survive a tsunami and serve as a refuge people could run to on short notice, to get above the deadly waves.

Some would be local residents in Cannon Beach, Ore. Many others saved might be tourists from all over the nation who flock to its scenic beauty – in the recent Chilean earthquake and tsunami many of those who died were tourists.

And researchers at Oregon State University say they hope the events now taking place across the Pacific Ocean will raise new awareness about these issues and help point the way to a solution.

“We’ve been struggling with this for several years now,” said Harry Yeh, a professor of coastal engineering at OSU, international expert on tsunamis and one of the people helping community leaders in Cannon Beach to make progress toward this new building. It’s a concept that, once created, might form a model for many more such structures from Northern California to British Columbia.

Read more from OSU News & Communications

Harry Yeh’s current Sea Grant-supported tsunami research

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