Stories From The Field

Comparing Differences in Tsunami Sensitivity along the Washington Coast

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Historical geologic evidence shows that the coast of Washington is vulnerable to high-magnitude tsunamis. To understand the potential impacts of future tsunamis, state and local leaders sought input and guidance in order to develop and prioritize local risk-reduction and mitigation strategies.


In cooperation with the Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division, the U.S. Geological Survey studied variations in community exposure hazards along the Washington coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Determining the current land use characteristics was a critical part of the data collection process. To do so, the research team turned to data available on NOAA’s Digital Coast website, specifically the Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) database, which portrays developed areas, natural land, and other surface components from which vulnerability indicators could be measured and compared.


From the C-CAP resource, which is nationally standardized for all U.S. coastal regions, the team was able to describe risks to public safety, the local and state economies, and infrastructure in predicted hazard zones along Washington’s open-ocean coasts and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. In turn, local policymakers and coastal managers were successful in developing preparedness measures, response strategies, and other event-recovery plans.

Map of Grays Harbor Bay with the tsunami-inundation zone and 2001 NOAA C-CAP land-cover data.
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