Yumei Wang of the Oregon State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries said a tsunami could produce waves towering 50 feet or more, threatening the lives of tens of thousands of people.
To mitigate the effects of such a tsunami, Wang is working to develop a series of tsunami evacuation buildings along the northwest coast.
She said they would be the first buildings of their kind in the United States. Construction, she urges, can't start soon enough.
The standard emergency response to tsunamis is to move people inland and uphill, but Wang notes there are many U.S. coastal communities where people simply won't be able to evacuate in time.
In Cannon Beach, Ore., Wang has started discussions on constructing the first tsunami evacuation building in the nation -- a proposed rebuilding of the town's existing city hall. Wang said such a building would have to be made of reinforced concrete and have a deep foundation, strong columns, a post-tensioning structural system to keep it upright, an 18-foot-tall first floor and wave-dissipation structures in front and back, among many other design details.
Wang presented her recommendations this week in Portland, Ore., during the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America.