The threat of a tsunami is a very real thing for much of the Pacific coastline, yet many cities in the U.S. haven't taken specific infrastructural measures to ensure their residents are safe when they happen. A new building in Washington will have the first purpose-built tsunami shelter in the country, offering accessible safety in a second-story room.

Most of the tsunami safety features already found in the U.S. are in the form of evacuation routes—signs posted along the coast which show the fastest way to get to higher ground. In many countries, like Chile, these evacuations are practiced regularly and can be quite efficient. But in the U.S., where we're not as used to a tsunami warning, this could lead to gridlocked chaos, as people attempt to climb into their cars, pile their belongings around them, and sit in traffic for an hour.


The better solution is having dedicated places in cites which are designed to shelter a large number of people without having to move them a few miles away.

When building the new gym at the Ocosta Elementary School in Grays Harbor County, Washington, designers at TCF Architecture simply elevated the space to the second story. The resulting room can hold about 1000 people—which includes all the students and faculty on campus as well as members of the nearby community within a 20-minute walk (about how much warning time residents would have if an earthquake struck on the nearby Cascadia fault).


The large, multipurpose room could not only be used for waiting out the tsunami but could also be stocked with disaster relief supplies, serving as a kind of command center after the waters subside.

This is a simple idea that could easily be replicated up and down the coast: Most schools have gyms, and most people are within walking distance of a nearby school. While this particular gym was explicitly designed to weather strong tsunami waves, with reinforced concrete corners and other features, its possible that other existing spaces could be retrofitted, much like they are for earthquakes. Then, as part of a seismic early warning system that pings us on our phones, we'd also get a Google Maps-enabled directions to help us navigate to the closest, highest shelter. [PopSci]

Images via TCF Architecture