Finding high ground

Tsunami drill helps OSU gather valuable data

NEWPORT – In the event of an earthquake and tsunami, people have critical choices to make.

“Do I run? Or do I get in a car?” said Brian Fowler, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Coast Region Visitor Experience Coordinator. “Do I go alone or do I try to gather my family first? If we can model the leg time for an individual, that will help with those decisions.”

To gather data for such a model, around 25 volunteers participated in a tsunami evacuation drill at South Beach State Park Thursday, May 11.

South Beach State Park is the first location for the pilot project of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) and Oregon State University (OSU).

In the project, OSU engineers and sociologists are developing computer models that show how people's decisions during a tsunami affect their ability to survive the event. The computer models will analyze decisions such as how quickly people decide to move and what route they take.

The drill also gives OPRD and researchers a chance to see how the public uses tsunami evacuation signs and routes.

“This event will help us better understand our current infrastructure, especially the trail signage to get to higher ground,” Fowler said. “State parks are mandated to improve safety and offerings through our master plan process. The coast has 74 parks in the tsunami inundation zone, and we want to know how people use our signs and how we can better enhance our amenities.”

Participants downloaded a running app before taking an assigned position in the park for the drill. The app tracked the volunteers’ route and speed.

“Ultimately, they need to reach Safe Haven Hill,” Fowler said. “They’re working their way in that direction without crossing Highway 101. We (talked) with participants afterward to find out why they chose a certain route, what signs were helpful and what signs are needed.”

More than a dozen of those participants were Toledo Teen Community Emergency Response Team students who simulated playing on the beach before an earthquake.

Josh Anderson and Travis Kroker said the experience was fun.

“We got a little lost but we found the right way,” Anderson said. “What we learned was connected to CERT because it’s about disaster preparation for first responders and earthquakes and tsunamis are the mostly likely disasters to happen on the coast.”

Kayla Tough and Breanna Schriver said their group worked together as a team.

“There were times when we weren’t quite sure which direction to go, but we talked about it and quickly figured out what to do,” Schriver said.

OSU professor Dan Cox, who participated in the drill, said he found the exercise very informative.

“Getting off the beach and into the park was easy, but how to get from the park to Safe Haven Hill was more difficult,” he said. “At a certain point we realized we were taking too long and started running.”

Fowler said South Beach State Park was chosen because of its proximity to the ocean and the high amount of visitors the park sees. Another drill is planned in Seaside. Next month, OSU will present the results from the drill to the public at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The drill gave participants five minutes to prepare and 25 minutes to make it to the safe area.

According to OSU, researchers estimate a massive earthquake and tsunami will hit the Oregon coast in the next 50 years. Computer models predict that South Beach would be covered in a tsunami wave within 30 minutes.

OSU is one of 10 institutions leading an initiative called the Community Resilience Center of Excellence. Based at Colorado State University, the five-year, $20-million dollar program develops computer programs designed to help communities better prepare for natural disasters, lessen their impact and recover more quickly.

The National Science Foundation and Oregon Sea Grant provided funding for the tsunami drill.

Fowler said the goal is make tsunami preparation second nature to visitors to the coast.

“It’s a part of our subconscious to take a first aid kit in our car when we go on a trip,” he said. “That doesn’t ruin our experience on the trip. Ultimately, we want people to come here prepared and aware of the high ground.”


Contact reporter Gloria Tucker at 541-265-8571, ext. 217 or [email protected]


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