Tsunami Blue Line Project: 'You have to know your route to high ground'

Blue lines like this one mark the safety zone, the high ground people must reach to escape a tsunami.

FLORENCE, Ore. - If a tsunami is heading toward the Oregon coast, many people would not know how far they need to flee to escape the giant waves. Now, the Tsunami Blue Line Program is giving locals and tourists visual keys to point them toward safety.

"I think that this is a great opportunity to practice your evacuation routes," said Althea Rizzo from the Geologic Hazards Program.

As most Oregonians know, it's not a matter of if, but when a giant earthquake will shake the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Now, a handful of coastal communities aren't taking any chances.

"Earthquakes and tsunamis can strike anytime and you have to know your route to high ground before it happens," Rizzo said.

That's why residents in Florence, Coos Bay, Reedsport and Gold Beach are all practicing their so called "walk-out."

Thanks to the new Tsunami Blue Line Project, the clear evacuation routes are highlighted for neighbors in high-risk inundation zones. The thick blue line marks the safety zone.

"Afterwards, it's too late up to see if you're in the evacuation zone or not," Rizzo said.

Rizzo said her inspiration for the project came from a similar, award-winning program in New Zealand.

The endeavor came with a price tag of about $13,000 which was mostly covered by NOAA's National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program.

"Bad things don't happen in Oregon very often. We're a pretty easy state to live in. We don't have hurricane season," said Andrew Phelps, director of the Office of Emergency Management.

Experts say that's all the more reason to plan ahead and know the safe routes.

"There's a lot of things we can do, and that they can do, to be survivors following a disaster and not be disaster victims," Phelps said.

The project was revealed on the 5-year anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami that struck Japan. Congressman Peter DeFazio said Japan is learning from their tragedy and Oregon should follow suit.

"They're putting out huge ocean arrays so they will know exactly when and where the tsunami starts, how big it will be and they've linked in everybody's cell phone. We need to be doing the same thing," DeFazio said.

The Blue Line Program is just the start of a long list of proactive measures.

There are five different Blue Line locations in Florence.

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