Oregon Mulls Plan for Tsunami Buildings

Should an earthquake generate a tsunami on the Oregon coast, there might be only 20 minutes to get to high ground.

But regional leaders, engineers and scientists plan to gather next week in Cannon Beach and Portland to talk about a different option _ a tsunami evacuation building, or TEB.

Former Cannon Beach Mayor Jay Raskin, president of Ecola Architects, has designed a conceptual city hall building that could double as a TEB. Built of concrete, it would sit about 15 feet above the water on pilings, allowing water to flow under it. He says such a building would not only save lives but would allow city government to function after a disaster.

Japan has about a dozen such buildings that have been around 15 to 20 years, said Harry Yeh, the Edwards professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Oregon State University. But in other areas, the idea has not been popular, largely because tsunamis do not occur that often.

Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released guidelines for the structures, sometimes referred to as vertical evacuation buildings.

The basic concept could be applied to even simpler structures, such as platforms that could be built in state parks and on beaches, said Yumei Wang, the geohazards team leader with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

“It would be like a glorified lifeguard chair,” she said. “It would have to be concrete, very robust.” The structures could do double duty as heliports or whale-watching platforms, Wang added.

Her design features five legs, a round top and numerous ladders.

“This is no frills thing,” she said.

Raskin says the building he envisions might cost $4 million, double that of a traditional building.

“We are trying to get the information to go to our citizens and say we want to do this and this is how much it is going to cost,” he said. “We know it is a lot more expensive, but it needs to be done. We need to figure out the funding.”

And he adds, “We’ve invited the visitors to the coast and we need to keep them safe.”