Community variations in population exposure to near-field tsunami hazards as a function of pedestrian travel time to safety


Efforts to characterize population exposure to near-field tsunami threats typically focus on quantifying the number and type of people in tsunami-hazard zones. To develop and prioritize effective risk-reduction strategies, emergency managers also need information on the potential for successful evacuations and how this evacuation potential varies among communities. To improve efforts to properly characterize and differentiate near-field tsunami threats among multiple communities, we assess community variations in population exposure to tsunamis as a function of pedestrian travel time to safety. We focus our efforts on the multiple coastal communities in Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties (State of Washington, USA), where a substantial resident and visitor population is threatened by near-field tsunamis related to a potential Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. Anisotropic, path distance modeling is conducted to estimate travel times to safety, and results are merged with various population data, including residents, employees, public venues, and dependent-care facilities. Results suggest that there is substantial variability among communities in the number of people that may have insufficient time to evacuate. Successful evacuations may be possible in some communities assuming slow walking speeds, are plausible in others if travel speeds are increased, and are unlikely in another set of communities given the large distances and short time horizon. Emergency managers can use these results to prioritize the location and determine the most appropriate type of tsunami risk-reduction strategies, such as education and training in areas where evacuations are plausible and vertical-evacuation structures in areas where they are not.

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This study was supported by the US Geological Survey (USGS) Geographic Analysis and Monitoring Program. We thank Susan Benjamin, Ronald Kirby, and Mara Tongue of the USGS, John Schelling of the State of Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division, and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful reviews of earlier versions of the article. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Wood, N.J., Schmidtlein, M.C. Community variations in population exposure to near-field tsunami hazards as a function of pedestrian travel time to safety. Nat Hazards 65, 1603–1628 (2013).

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  • Tsunami
  • Evacuation
  • Path distance
  • Modeling
  • Pedestrian
  • Cascadia