Hatfield Marine Science Center employees practice their tsunami evacuation route (photo courtesy of Maryann Bozza, HMSC)
Tsunami preparedness will soon be coming to a smartphone near you. A team of researchers at Oregon State University is developing an app for coastal residents to plan – and test – evacuation routes to use during an earthquake and tsunami.
Participants will use the app to conduct actual evacuation drills and compare their response time to the speed of an incoming wave.
“People will be able to download the app, plug in their start points and end points, and be able to track that like a GPS,” explained Lori Cramer, a sociologist and principal investigator on the project, which is funded by Oregon Sea Grant. “They will be able to do it themselves to see how quickly they can get to wherever they are going and try alternate routes.”
Social media was underutilized during the Fukushima disaster in Japan, but Cramer hopes that with proper planning this app will help save lives when a disaster does hit Oregon. Studies of seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest have estimated that the Oregon coast has a more than one-in-three chance of experiencing a major, arthquake, capable of generating a dangerous tsunami, within the next 50 years.
Along with the app, the team plans workshops on the coast to discuss evacuation routes and preparedness. After residents practice an evacuation using the app, they will complete an anonymous survey to help the researchers compare trends and disaster preparedness between coastal cities.
“The app can be used to relay evacuation route and time data to a central archive,” explained Haizhong Wang, a civil engineer and collaborator on the project. “These data are used by city managers and the research team to guide future development of evacuation simulation models with thousands of people.”
To use the app, participants create a profile including age, gender and zip code—to distinguish residents from tourists—and head out for high ground. Hitting the “start” button signals an earthquake, and all of their decisions afterwards are of interest to the researchers.
“One thing that we are interested in is ‘milling time,’ or how long it takes a person to decide to evacuate after feeling the earthquake,” Cramer said.
Throughout the dry run, participants will actually be able to monitor how close the imaginary wave is to their current location.
“We have pre-computed tsunami inundation for several areas, and we are working on Newport now,” said Dan Cox, an engineer and professor with OSU’s School of Civil and Construction Engineering who is creating the wave models for the project. “You can use this pre-computed inundation to get an idea of where the water will be at any given time.”
While the app is being developed, the team continues to conduct evacuation drills with various “at-risk” groups—including the elderly, disabled and the poor— along the coast. Cramer says that these trainings can provide hope to people who might not evacuate otherwise.
“There was one elderly lady who hadn’t planned on leaving,” Cramer said. “But she did the drill and she found out that she could make it to the evacuation point in the time period, and that changed her whole outlook on life.”
Once the app is released, the research team plans to create an interactive display at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport for visitors to learn about the technology and provide feedback. Ultimately, the researchers hope to use social media and education to help make coastal communities more resilient and better prepared for future disasters.
… about Oregon Sea Grant’s work on tsunami preparedness on the Oregon coast