Fire agency sets research in motion for evacuation tower

The mid-Peninsula location of 168th Street and Pacific Highway is being considered for the tsunami evacuation tower and firefighter training building.

PENINSULA — The mid-Peninsula location of 168th Street and Pacific Highway is being considered for a tsunami evacuation tower and firefighter training building.

Preliminary plans are being considered for an evacuation tower part-way up the Long Beach Peninsula.

The sturdy structure would be designed to provide some “artificial high ground” in the event of a tsunami.

The location at 168th Street and Pacific Highway is a parcel owned by Pacific County Fire District No. 1.

The 13 acres were purchased more than 10 years ago for a possible firefighter training site. Chief Jacob Brundage said any structure could do double duty.

“That area has no natural high ground and it would be a minimum of two hours for anyone to walk out,” he said.

The district has worked with state and federal officials to secure a $120,000 grant for a feasibility study. On June 12, the district advertised for an expert to coordinate the early phases of the proposal. Applications are due June 23.

Fire officials emphasize that it is only a concept right now.

The district coordinates firefighter training in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties and the idea of designing the evacuation structure so it could be used for high-ladder and hose training is encouraged by emergency management experts. It would not be used for live-fire training, Brundage said.

Assistant Chief Brad Weatherby said the first phase is to consider the feasibility. Soil samples and wetlands are among issues that must be addressed. If things moved ahead, the district would apply for another Federal Emergency Management Agency grant in January.

“If we move forward, maybe fall of 2020 would be the earliest construction start,” Weatherby said.

Long-term risk reduction

Tim Cook is the state hazard mitigation officer with the Emergency Management Division. He has been working with the Pacific County No. 1 fire officials on elements of the application.

He said unlike federal grants awarded after disasters, this funding source is designed for agencies working on long-term risk reduction.

Cook said one key element in the research will be working with University of Washington experts on tsunami modeling to ensure the exact site is safe and suitable.

“We are really happy with our partnership,” he said. “We are really energized by the motivation and focus on safety that Chief Brundage and his staff have shown.”

Another tower

The project is similar to another under way.

A vertical tsunami evacuation tower is moving ahead near Tokeland led by the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. Building is expected to begin in November with completion in October 2020.

It is funded by a $2.2 million FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grant, plus $1 million of tribal funds. According to the Grays Harbor News Group, it would be one of two tsunami evacuation structures in the region — the other atop the gym at the Ocosta Elementary School about 10 miles north.

The Shoalwater tower will be designed to stand 50 feet and hold 486 people. It may be equipped with solar power panels for communications, plus stocks of emergency supplies.

District No. 1 leaders acknowledge that these types of projects often require a portion to be funded locally.

Brundage said his department would seek other grants and investigate whether in-kind services may be factored in to any required local contributions.

“We have no idea of the cost,” the chief said. “We want to make the right decision and a long-term decision to meet all our needs.”

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