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Community disruptions and business costs for distant tsunami evacuations using maximum versus scenario-based zones

April 14, 2017

Well-executed evacuations are key to minimizing loss of life from tsunamis, yet they also disrupt communities and business productivity in the process. Most coastal communities implement evacuations based on a previously delineated maximum-inundation zone that integrates zones from multiple tsunami sources. To support consistent evacuation planning that protects lives but attempts to minimize community disruptions, we explore the implications of scenario-based evacuation procedures and use the California (USA) coastline as our case study. We focus on the land in coastal communities that is in maximum-evacuation zones, but is not expected to be flooded by a tsunami generated by a Chilean earthquake scenario. Results suggest that a scenario-based evacuation could greatly reduce the number of residents and employees that would be advised to evacuate for 24–36 h (178,646 and 159,271 fewer individuals, respectively) and these reductions are concentrated primarily in three counties for this scenario. Private evacuation spending is estimated to be greater than public expenditures for operating shelters in the area of potential over-evacuations ($13 million compared to $1 million for a 1.5-day evacuation). Short-term disruption costs for businesses in the area of potential over-evacuation are approximately $122 million for a 1.5-day evacuation, with one-third of this cost associated with manufacturing, suggesting that some disruption costs may be recouped over time with increased short-term production. There are many businesses and organizations in this area that contain individuals with limited mobility or access and functional needs that may have substantial evacuation challenges. This study demonstrates and discusses the difficulties of tsunami-evacuation decision-making for relatively small to moderate events faced by emergency managers, not only in California but in coastal communities throughout the world.