Getting Out of Harm’s Way: Evacuation from Tsunamis

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Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey 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.

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey 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 GIS software extension, released this week, 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. 

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

“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 can be downloaded online, and the complete users guide, “The pedestrian evacuation analyst—Geographic information systems software for modeling hazard evacuation potential” is also available online.

A graph comparing pedestrian evacuation time estimate for Ocean Shores and Aberdeen, WA.
A graph comparing pedestrian evacuation time estimate for Ocean Shores and Aberdeen, WA.

 

Landcover map (left) and pedestrian evacuation time estimate map (right) Ocean Shores, Washington.
Landcover map (left) and pedestrian evacuation time estimate map (right) Ocean Shores, Washington.