Study Finds More People Could Survive Tsunami if They Walk Faster – Duh

Don’t write off this story just yet. The solutions to preventing or managing disasters are often multi-layered, complex strategies, usually with a lot of technical elements thrown in. But sometimes the solutions have very simple components: case in point – people’s walking speed.

An Associated Press story published by ABC News discusses the results of a new study: “about 5,500 more people could survive a major tsunami hitting the Pacific Northwest if they just walk a little faster to higher ground after roads are knocked out.”

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the report analyzed 73 communities along 700 miles of coastline in Oregon, Washington and Northern California – an area considered most at risk from the next major earthquake and tsunami in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

This excerpt further explains the study’s findings:

Emergency preparedness experts generally agree that after the quake and tsunami, most roads will be too damaged for driving, so people will have to walk to safety.

Geographers estimated 21,562 residents would not make it to safety if they walk slowly — at about 2.5 mph. But if they walk faster, at about 3.5 mph, the death toll drops to 15,970. About 70 percent of them would be in Washington, nearly 30 percent in Oregon and only 4 percent in California.

The study said people working or staying at motels in the tsunami area also will be at risk, but it didn't say how many. It also noted where communities have dependent-care facilities, where residents might have trouble walking.

Lead author Nathan Wood, a geographer for the U.S. Geological Survey in Portland, Oregon, said the findings show tsunami risks are a public health issue as well as an emergency preparedness issue. Promoting healthy lifestyles that help people walk faster would save lives.

Wood added the study provides the most detailed look yet at tsunami risks, and should help in planning evacuation strategies and educating the public.

“People kind of know that Ocean Shores and Long Beach, Washington, and Seaside, Oregon, have issues” because higher ground is too far to walk in the time before a tsunami hits, he said.

“What we wanted to show is that all the communities have issues from Cascadia, but they are different issues,” Wood said.

  • After they feel the quake, people in the tsunami area have about 15 minutes to reach higher ground before 30-40-foot-high water wall arrives.

According to the article:

The study also provides better information to look at which communities might consider strategies like vertical evacuation, where buildings or mounds of earth are constructed as places to escape the tsunami, said John Schelling, earthquake, tsunami and volcanoes program manager for Washington Emergency Management.

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