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The Story of Ocosta School

Developing the first tsunami vertical evacuation structure in the western USA

4 years ago by Caroline Orchiston, David Johnston, Emily Lambie, Julia Becker, Kate Boersen, Steve Jensen


Paula Ackland, outside the vertical evacuation structure under construction in Westport, Washington State (USA)

Ocosta School, Westport, Washington State, USA has developed the first tsunami vertical evacuation structure in western USA. 

Paula Akerlund, the Superintendent of the School District in Westport, Washington State  was instrumental in driving a project to build a vertical evacuation structure for Ocosta School.

Westport lies on a low-lying peninsula, sandwiched between Grays Harbour and the Pacific Ocean. There are very few areas within Westport with natural high ground; vertical evacuation is the only option.

This area of the Washington Coast has a known risk from large earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone 30km off the coast, with displacement of the seafloor resulting in large and devastating tsunami within 30 mins of the triggering earthquake.

The existing school was built in 1986 to the standards required at the time. The buildings were in need of demolition, and Paula decided to take a unique approach to what replaced them: building a vertical evacuation structure to protect the school community in the event of a tsunami.

Since their building was approved and during the construction, they have had many visits from news media, other cities and counties. Today, there are several other tsunami vertical evacuation structures being considered in the local area, including a earth berm in Long Beach, and a multi-storey car park in Aberdeen.

The Ocosta School example inspired other communities to take ownership of their risks, and has undoubtedly had a major impact on building community resilience in coastal Washington.

The evacuation platform is scheduled to be completed in mid-May 2016, but can already be used in an emergency. Read more here: The Story of Ocosta School