The greatest economic impact to California from tsunamis comes from damage to ports, harbors and other coastal properties. For instance, such a tsunami could damage or sink a third of all the boats in California marinas and damage or destroy two-thirds of the docks. Altogether, repairing California marinas, coastal properties, and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach might cost about $3.4 billion, researchers estimated.
About 250,000 people live in the zones most inundated by the scenario and would likely have to be evacuated. An additional quarter of a million tourists and visitors might be on the coast if the scenario occurred in March. Tourist numbers could increase into the millions during the summer months.
Evacuation plans are key for those in potential tsunami inundation zones. "The best way to survive a tsunami is to not be there," Jones said. (No, You Can't Outrun a Tsunami)
Furthermore, this scenario could lead to damage to the environment by many means, such as debris from damaged ships, piers and buildings, or raw sewage from inundated wastewater treatment plants. Still, in this scenario, neither of California's nuclear power plants are in danger of inundation.
If authorities do nothing further to prepare for a tsunami, losses from the interruptions to business after the disaster might reach about $6 billion. However, the researchers stress these losses can be reduced by 80 to 90 percent by implementing resilience strategies for recovery. For instance, ports might cross-train labor so they can fill in needed jobs if necessary and maintain extra capacity to keep operating despite setbacks. And such measures could have benefits beyond these in the aftermath of a tsunami.
"A lot of what you would do to prepare for one disruption can help you prepare for others," researcher Anne Wein, a U.S. Geological Survey operations research analyst in Menlo Park, Calif., told LiveScience.
The scientists detailed their plan on Sept. 4 in the U.S. Geological Survey's Science Application for Risk Reduction (SAFRR) Tsunami Scenario. They are now meeting with tsunami hazard working groups in several coastal Californian counties to discuss their findings.
"We need to get the word out, and we want to take insights from social science research on how to do that," Jones said. "Rather than saying how awful it is going to be, we want to ask people whether they're going to be ready to take care of their families, to be the people helping others rather than be the people being helped."
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