Planned Ocosta tsunami refuge would provide safe area for students, staff and residents

First vertical-evacuation tsunami refuge in nation

Ocosta school project
Ocosta school project

The Ocosta School District hosted an open house last week (Thursday, May 15) to show off its plans for what will become the first vertical-evacuation tsunami refuge in the United States – the Ocosta Elementary School & Tsunami Safe Haven. This voter-approved, locally funded school construction project will include a large platform atop a new gymnasium, part of a planned replacement for the community’s aging elementary school. Students, faculty, and staff, as well as nearby residents, could flee to the building’s upper-level in the event a tsunami hit the Washington coast. By placing the earthquake-resilient building atop a small hill, the rooftop haven will sit about 55 feet above sea level, well above the tallest surges predicted for the school site.

Washington State’s outer coast is susceptible to tsunamis, particularly those caused by local earthquakes. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, which lies off the coastline of Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and British Columbia, is capable of producing very large earthquakes, similar to the one that struck Japan and generated devastating tsunami waves in March 2011.

This new structure is a product of Project Safe Haven, a collaboration between DNR, Washington State Emergency Management Division, University of Washington’s Hazard Mitigation Institute, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States Geological Survey, coastal communities, and Tribal Nations. Also instrumental in the project was NOAA’s National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program which encourages safety planning in communities at risk of tsunamis.

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