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Danger On The Beach

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.

User Comments:

This past April I travelled with Yumei on the American Society of Civil Engineers TCLEE investigation of the damage caused by the February 27, 2010 subduction zone earthquake in Chile. This earthquake is very similar to the quake we expect here in the Pacific Northwest. After viewing the significant damage in Chile, a country that is very well prepared to survive these types of seismic events, I realized how unprepared we are in the northwest. The predicted damage and casualties of the expected Cascadia Event will greatly surpass those expereinced in Chile. This is a very relevant topic for all western Oregonians and Washingtonians - I urge you to watch the show - and to have a tsunami escape plan anytime you are at the coast!

I love to visit the Oregon and Washington coasts, but rarely think of the risks. Thanks for sharing these simple pointers for personal safety! I'm looking forward to next week's show.

The Cannon Beach project seeks to not only save lives, but also provide continuity of government following the earthquake and tsunami, since the building will house City Hall. The Sumatra earthquake/tsunami certainly was a wake up call for our community which had already begun planning for Cascadia, but Katrina was equally so. Not so much New Orleans, but the impact on small Gulf coast towns and the difficulties of providing relief and post disaster recovery. We know that we will be cut off from other coastal communities and the rest of the state and will need to provide for our 1,600 residents and visitors numbering at least several times that. We are also proud of our town and realized that in rebuilding if we didn't do the planning now someone else would be doing it for us after the event.

Since it is not a question of "if" but "when" a huge earthquake and tsunami will hit the Pacific Northwest, it makes great sense to be thinking and planning for the event--and working to assure the safety of those of us who live here. I'm looking forward to the show.

This show serves as a reminder that the United States is far from prepared for disasters from earthquakes and tsunamis. We could easily find our American parents crying outside of a collapsed school, just like the news reports we have seen from Haiti and China.

We have made gains on changing how new construction is done to cope with earthquakes, but there are many structures built before the earthquake code improvements that are a threat. Two thumbs up for those engineers, scientists, government staff, and elected officials that push us forward to make the improvements we need to make us safer.

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