In NOVA's Deadliest Earthquakes, thanks to digital special effects, I stand on a beautiful Oregon beach as a tsunami looms and surges toward me. Of course I would not survive that encounter, and I hope never to experience it!
But tens of thousands of people (on a good summer day) could be on Pacific Northwest beaches at the moment the Cascadia Fault ruptures, unleashing a tsunami that could sweep ashore in as few as 15-20 minutes. If you are one of them, what should you do?
First, you should wait for the shaking to stop. An earthquake could last for as little as a few seconds to as long as several minutes. No matter the duration or apparent strength of the shaking, if you are on a beach or anywhere within the tsunami inundation zone you should get yourself and your loved ones to safe ground by moving inland and uphill.
So as soon as the shaking stops, get off the beach and move to safe ground as quickly and as directly as possible following any available designated evacuation routes. Bluffs and dunes don't count, and neither do beachside houses or motels. The only safe ground is outside the tsunami zone, until the risk has passed.
It's possible for tsunamis generated far from our shores to strike the Pacific Northwest. This risk is likely to be announced hours before impact by sirens and other warning systems. But any time water recedes from the shore in an unusual manner, even without earthquake shaking, leave the beach and seek safe ground.
More Pacific Northwest coast towns should consider Tsunami Evacuation Buildings like the one envisioned for Cannon Beach, Oregon. Such buildings could offer a safe refuge for many coastal residents and visitors. But until that day, no visitor to our spectacular coast should spend a day by the waves without taking note of high ground and the shortest way to get there.
Publicist's note: Yumei Wang is featured in NOVA's Deadliest Earthquakes, premiering Tuesday, January 11th at 8 PM ET/PT on most PBS stations. Please check your local listings.