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Getting Out of Harm’s Way—Evacuation from Tsunamis

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Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have developed a new mapping tool, the Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst, for use by researchers and emergency managers to estimate how long it would take for someone to travel on foot out of a tsunami-hazard zone. The ArcGIS software extension, released in September 2014, allows the user to create maps showing travel times out of hazard zones and to determine the number of people that may or may not have enough time to evacuate. The maps take into account the elevation changes and the different types of land cover that a person would encounter along the way.

Maps of travel time can be used by emergency managers and community planners to identify where to focus evacuation training and tsunami education. The tool can also be used to examine the potential benefits of vertical-evacuation structures, which are buildings or berms designed to provide a local high ground in low-lying areas of the hazard zone. 

Maps of Ocean Shores, Washington, a city on the state's Pacific coast
Above: Maps of Ocean Shores, Washington, a city on the state's Pacific coast. Left, estimated pedestrian travel time at a slow walking speed (in minutes) to evacuate predicted tsunami-hazard zones associated with a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. (The tsunami waves are estimated to arrive approximately 25 minutes after being triggered by the earthquake.) Right, possible locations for vertical evacuation structures proposed at a community meeting. (See article in The Summit, “ Getting Out of Harm’s Way: Evacuation from Natural Hazards,” 7.6 MB PDF.) [larger version]

The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst software can assist communities with tsunami planning by answering such questions as:

  • How long could it take for people to evacuate out of tsunami-hazard zones?
  • Will people have enough time to evacuate before the first tsunami waves arrive?
  • If people don’t have enough time to evacuate, then where could vertical-evacuation refuges provide high ground?
  • How do you compare the benefits of multiple sites for potential vertical-evacuation refuges?

(See “Risk and Vulnerability to Natural Hazards” for more examples.)

“The tool can be used to provide valuable decision support for tsunami evacuation planning and vertical-evacuation siting, which is just in the beginning stages in the U.S. Pacific Northwest,” said Jeanne Jones, USGS geographer who led the development of the software tool. The tool has enabled USGS researchers to better understand various aspects of community vulnerability to tsunamis, including community comparisons based on evacuation times, vertical-evacuation decision support, the impact of post-tsunami recovery decisions, and the evacuation challenges posed by different types of tsunami threats.

The software tool and the complete user’s guide, “The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst—Geographic Information Systems Software for Modeling Hazard Evacuation Potential,” can be downloaded online.

Read more about USGS science that is advancing our understanding of tsunami hazards and helping vulnerable communities plan for them in “Preparing Communities for the Next Great Tsunami,” USGS Top Story, posted August 26, 2014, and “Earthquake and Tsunami Geologist Brian Atwater Receives Shoemaker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Communications,” this issue.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Earthquake and Tsunami Geologist Brian Atwater Receives Shoemaker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Communications
Jan. / Feb. 2015
USGS Scientists Respond to Deadly Samoa Tsunami
November 2009

Related Websites
Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst
Risk and Vulnerability to Natural Hazards
Anisotropic path modeling to assess pedestrian-evacuation potential from Cascadia-related tsunamis in the US Pacific Northwest
Natural Hazards
Tsunami vertical-evacuation planning in the U.S. Pacific Northwest as a geospatial, multi-criteria decision problem
International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Changes in population evacuation potential for tsunami hazards in Seward, Alaska, since the 1964 Good Friday earthquake
Natural Hazards
Variations in population vulnerability to tectonic and landslide-related tsunami hazards in Alaska
Natural Hazards
The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst—Geographic Information Systems Software for Modeling Hazard Evacuation Potential
Preparing Communities for the Next Great Tsunami
USGS Science Features
Getting Out of Harm’s Way: Evacuation from Natural Hazards (7.6 MB PDF)
The Summit
Surviving a Tsunami—Lessons from Chile, Hawaii, and Japan
USGS Circular 1187

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in this issue:

Virus Calculated as Culprit Killing Sea Stars

Scientific Portrait of the Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History

California Seafloor Mapping Program Reaches Milestone

Future Wave and Wind Effects on Pacific Islands

California’s Sea Otter Numbers Holding Steady

New USGS Research Vessel in the Great Lakes

Spotlight on Sandy
Five New USGS Oceanographic Datasets Published Online

Explore Coastal and Seafloor Images along U.S. Coasts

Getting Out of Harm’s Way—Evacuation from Tsunamis

USGS at the 2014 St. Petersburg Science Festival in Florida

Tribal GIS Training in the Northeast U.S.

Undamming Washington’s Elwha River—Public Lecture

Geologist Brian Atwater Receives Communications Award

Frozen Heat—New International Report on Methane Hydrates

Jan. / Feb. Publications

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