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caption: The first free-standing tsunami refuge in North America is now open in Tokeland in Pacific County, Washington.
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The first free-standing tsunami refuge in North America is now open in Tokeland in Pacific County, Washington.
Credit: Northwest News Network

Exploring North America's first free-standing tsunami tower

If you spend any time driving along the coast of Washington, you’ll see Tsunami Escape Route signs leading the way to higher ground.

Tokeland is one of the communities in a tsunami risk zone. It's about 30 miles southwest of Aberdeen on the Washington coast.

It's also home to a brand-new tsunami tower, the first of its kind in the U.S.

Earlier this week, KUOW correspondent Tom Banse reported about the new 50-foot tall, double-decker tsunami evacuation tower, built by the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He joined Soundside to explain what the tower means for the community, and where we need to go next.

The Tokeland evacuation tower resembles free-standing tsunami towers previously built in Japan, but it is the first of its type in North America.

Many more of these towers need to be built. It will just be a matter of funding to get them put in place. Banse said a study commissioned by the state Emergency Management Division looked at the population along the coast and the tsunami evacuation route walk times and concluded that the state needed more than 50 vertical evacuation structures in Pacific, Grays Harbor, and Clallam counties.

"The Tokeland tower cost $5 million," Banse explained. "FEMA paid the majority — $3.8 million, but it's the first time the feds have picked up the cost for a tsunami evacuation tower." The Shoalwater Bay tribal council provided the remaining $1.2 million.

Since we don't know when "the big one" may hit the Cascadia Subduction Zone, there is a chance that these towers might not see use for a long time. Banse said that makes funding the towers more challenging.

"It's it's a hard case to make when there are so many other pressing priorities," he said.