Oregon town could have first tsunami-resistant City Hall

Oregon town could have first tsunami-resistant City Hall »Play Video
Former Cannon Beach Mayor Jay Raskin, president of Ecola Architects, has designed a conceptual city hall building that could double as a TEB. Built of concrete, it would sit about 15 feet above the water on pilings, allowing water to flow under it.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon State University predict there's a 37 percent chance a major quake will hit Oregon in the next 50 years. If the earthquake hits a coastal town, a tsunami could follow within minutes.

Researchers, professors and students have been working at the school's wave center to create the first tsunami-resistant building in the United States.

"Once this earthquake happens, a tsunami will hit in about 30 minutes," said Dan Cox, a professor of coastal and ocean engineering at OSU. "So what we need to do is come up with strategies that will help save lives in a very short amount of time."

In place at the school's wave center is a mini-replica of Cannon Beach -- a town that's seriously thinking about adopting a tsunami-resistant design for it's City Hall.

"We realized that you need a functioning city government after a disaster," said former Cannon Beach Mayor Jay Raskin. "Our current City Hall would basically...part of it would fall down in an earthquake and in a tsunami all of it would wash away."

Researchers tested the mini-structure on tsunami-like waves. During testing, it worked. Experts told KVAL News the structure would need to first withstand an earthquake and then also be able to resist tsunami waves and debris.

Watch footage of a 'tsunami' hitting a model of Cannon Beach

Here's how the model works:

The building would be suspended over ground 12 feet so water and debris can travel underneath. It would be made of something strong like reinforced concrete.

There would be multiple 34 square inch columns holding the building up. In the case of Cannon Beach, there are other buildings in the area of City Hall which would affect the speed and size of the wave that hits.

Seth Thomas, an OSU graduate student who has been working closely with the project told KVAL they're not sure 12 feet would be high enough; however, he said any higher, and the building might not be able to withstand an earthquake.

"The earthquake comes first so if it doesn't survive the earthquake it can't be any use for the tsunami," he said. "We want it to look like new. We don't want it to be leaning or even if it's strong enough and it's leaning pepole might say, 'Eh I don't know.' We want people to have confidence in the structure."

Thomas and Cox still have concerns about the size of debris, for instance, if a semi-truck hit the building. They're also concerned about the strength of potential waves.

Can architecture protect against a tsunami?The project for now is a conceptual design of a 9,800 square-foot structure.

Thomas and Cox say there's still a lot more work that needs to be done, and it might cost them more money, but they do feel the project is moving in the right direction and in the end, is meant to save lives.

"There's still work being done but so far so good," said Cox. "It looks promising."