One of the Biggest Hazards to the Pacific Northwest

In her 2015 article, “The Really Big One”, published in The New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz provides the fascinating background of the newly discovered fault-line that puts the San Andreas Fault, and all other known faults, to shame.  This fault is called the “Cascadia Subduction Zone” and tsunamis it has created have devastated both the Pacific Northwest and coastal areas of Japan every few hundred years.

According to Schulz’s research, the Cascadia Subduction Zone is just located 700 miles off the coast and a triggered earthquake and tsunami will directly impact forty-thousand square miles of the Pacific Northwest with rippling effects throughout the U.S. Based on the last known event, the geological clock is practically up and the region is due for another earthquake and tsunami at any moment. 


An Example of the Preparedness Mindset – Grays Harbor County, WA

This recently realized threat poses a real risk of high loss of life and devastating damage for the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest. In emergency preparedness terms, it presents an extreme hazard; especially for Ocosta Elementary and Junior/Senior High School in Grays Harbor County, WA, that sit next to each other on a highly vulnerable peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean.

This discovery created a new and potentially devastating hazard and the need to Get Before “X.” Imagine a timeline and place an “X” in the center representing an emergency – like a tsunami.  Everything after “X” is response and everything before “X” is our opportunity to prevent or at least mitigates its impact.

Before X Gif

Obviously, preventing a tsunami is not an option, but preparedness is more than prevention and response. This “Getting Before “X” mindset is why emergency management realized the solution of simply evacuating to avoid a tsunami is not a viable option because the only evacuation route utilizes a bridge on Highway 105 that would likely be damaged by the earthquake that creates the tsunami.

The Grays Harbor community considered the following:

  • Where the threat would come from
  • How long before a tsunami would hit
  • The general topography of their coastal community
  • Likeliness of flooding
  • Vulnerable populations


The Tsunami-Proof Gymnasium

The solution is the nation’s first vertical tsunami refuge. Ocosta Elementary School’s gymnasium was the first structure successfully designated as a “vertical evacuation shelter.” It is estimated this shelter could safely house up to 1,000 people in the event of a tsunami. The project called “Project Safe Haven” is based in collaboration between the University of Washington, local state and federal emergency management, the school district, and the voters who approved funding for the construction. 


Thousands of people live by the Highway 105 Bridge and travel over it every day, but recognizing the bridge would likely be damaged when it is most needed, is a perfect example of Getting Before “X” and protecting good people from bad things.

Technology to Facilitate the Preparedness Mindset

Local hazards are unique to all communities. Therefore, no matter your location, preparedness is essential to limit damage and loss of life in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

SafePlan’s ERIP (Emergency Response Information Portal) simplifies the preparedness process. With fully-customizable plans, assessments, and the ability to integrate site mapping data, ERIP empowers communities to identify gaps in plans, create new plans, and train stakeholders throughout the process.

Earthquake, tsunami, hurricane – you name it. ERIP is an all-hazards, holistic approach to emergency preparedness.

Learn more about ERIP’s full capabilities here: Emergency Preparedness Technology

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