SEASIDE – Even before the latest citywide voluntary tsunami evacuation drill scheduled for May 2, some Seaside residents knew they might not be able to get to safety in time to save their lives during such an emergency.

Aylee Rhea, the executive director at Suzanne Elise, an assisted living facility just east of Neawanna Creek, said it will be a challenge to get all 82 elderly residents out of the facility to safety during a tsunami. The first priority will be to help residents move up the near-by hill to safety.

“We have a bus that we would use to take those that won’t be able to walk to reach higher ground if we have time during an emergency,” she said. “Our Portland-based company would also provide additional buses, but there’s no telling when they would arrive if the roads aren’t damaged.”

While Suzanne Elise staff does conduct monthly emergency drills at the facility, the drills are not meant for tsunami evacuation.

“It’s basically how to get the residents behind fire doors,” Rhea said. “It’s not really meant to help them during a tsunami. So we definitely have mobility issues.”

Suzanne Elise staff will conduct a tsunami drill in September.

During the March 2011 Pacific Coast tsunami warning following the devastating Japanese earthquakes and tsunami residents at Suzanne Elise were evacuated to the building’s second floor.

The City of Seaside has produced a tsunami evacuation map that lists public assembly areas in the hills east of the downtown where people can go during the drill and where they should go during such an emergency. The assembly areas are:

• Lewis and Clark Road

• 12th Avenue and Shore Terrace

• Broadway and Hilltop Drive

• Cooper Street and Spruce Loop

• The Cove Tillamook Head and Sunset Blvd.

“I hope people will get familiar with all the routes, so that wherever they are when the emergency strikes, they will know where to go and how long it will take to get to the safe areas,” said Kevin Kupples, Seaside city planner. “If you are in reasonable physical shape it will take you about 20 minutes from the downtown core area to reach one of the assembly points, but for people with mobility challenges it will be tough to get out of the inundation zone.”

Kupples and other city officials urge people to plan and conduct regular tsunami drills using the escape routes.

“Walk the routes,” Kupples said. “Don’t drive.”

“It’s not so much the tsunami as it is when we feel the earthquake,” said Keith Chandler, general manager of the Seaside Aquarium. “Then it’s time to get the heck out of Dodge.

He said his employees would instruct customers to walk as fast as they can or run to the nearest high point.

“That’s if it is the big one,” Chandler said. “If it is a distance event then we have plenty of time to get out of town. So, when the ground shakes you go. You don’t wait for the sirens. If you do, you’re in trouble.”

During the Pacific Coast tsunami warning March 11, 2011, Chandler actually came to work.

“I kept an eye on what was happening in Hawaii,” he said. “When I saw there was no major damage there, I knew there would be no problem here. I’ve dug clams in larger surf than what we had during that tsunami event.”

Chandler and his staff have participated in previous citywide tsunami evacuation drills and are prepared to assist customers who have questions about emergency preparedness.

“I don’t think people are that worried about it,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of questions. The staff knows what to do. If people do ask, we tell them if they feel the earth shake its time to get out of town.”

Chandler said the Aquarium’s closest evacuation route would be the Sunset Hills area east of the beach.

“Unless the bridges are out, than I tell them to head for the Trend West building and get up high there,” he said.

The Seaside Aquarium has not posted any tsunami evacuation maps and does not provide any information brochures about such an event.

“No, but people can find the brochures around town,” Chandler said. “The motels are up on that and provide them to customers.”

Seaside business owner Salomon Sibony looks to the Seaside School District for tsunami evacuation information.

“We take the clues from what the school district tells our kids about the evacuations,” said Sibony, owner of Freedom, a downtown clothing and gift store. “We pretty much know the evacuation routes and where to go to be safe.”

Sibony’s staff will answer customer’s questions about the evacuation routes, but employees don’t make it a practice to tell each customer about what she or he would need to do if the evacuation sirens sound.

“You can’t tell everyone that comes in what to do if the tsunami sirens go off,” he said. “But when the sirens do sound, we will alert our customers. People from out of the area might not know which direction to go so we will tell them where to go and help them to be safe.”

There are no tsunami evacuation maps posted inside or outside of Sibony’s store.

“We do think those would be useful, but in a panic situation it’s probably not a good idea to try to hand one out to everyone,” he said. “Some of the planning just has to be about preparing people mentally and when something happens help them to react effectively.”

You can find tsunami brochures and evacuation maps inside the Flashback Malt Shoppe in downtown Seaside.

“We do have them throughout the store and the tsunami hazard zone signs at our store entrances,” said Boni, Flashback owner and operator “Our employees do talk about it with our customers.”

She agrees that the evacuation drills are a good idea to help better prepare both residents and visitors.

“It’s a good idea to know in advance especially for the elderly who get freaked out when they hear the sirens,” she said. “We have to tell our elderly customers that there will be a drill and that if they can they need to walk up the hill.”

Seaside Heights Elementary School Principal Dan Gaffney said the school has been designated by local officials as a public gathering place during emergencies such as a tsunami.

“We have a plan with the Red Cross and Providence Seaside Hospital for what areas of the school would be available to use as an emergency shelter,” he said.

During the March 2011 Pacific Coast tsunami warning Seaside Heights School was opened as a public shelter and some people did gather at the school.

Following the citywide evacuation drill May 2, officials will do a debriefing to find out what worked and what didn’t.

“We’ll want to see where people came from and how long it took them to get to the assembly areas,” Kupples said.

For more information about the City of Seaside’s tsunami escape routes and other disaster preparedness information, log onto cityofseaside.us. Or call (503) 738-5511.

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