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U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5222

Prepared in cooperation with the California Emergency Management Agency and the California Geological Survey

Community Exposure to Tsunami Hazards in California

By Nathan J. Wood, Jamie Ratliff, and Jeff Peters

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (18.8 MB)Abstract

Evidence of past events and modeling of potential events suggest that tsunamis are significant threats to low-lying communities on the California coast. To reduce potential impacts of future tsunamis, officials need to understand how communities are vulnerable to tsunamis and where targeted outreach, preparedness, and mitigation efforts may be warranted. Although a maximum tsunami-inundation zone based on multiple sources has been developed for the California coast, the populations and businesses in this zone have not been documented in a comprehensive way. To support tsunami preparedness and risk-reduction planning in California, this study documents the variations among coastal communities in the amounts, types, and percentages of developed land, human populations, and businesses in the maximum tsunami-inundation zone.

The tsunami-inundation zone includes land in 94 incorporated cities, 83 unincorporated communities, and 20 counties on the California coast. According to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, this tsunami-inundation zone contains 267,347 residents (1 percent of the 20-county resident population), of which 13 percent identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, 14 percent identify themselves as Asian, 16 percent are more than 65 years in age, 12 percent live in unincorporated areas, and 51 percent of the households are renter occupied. Demographic attributes related to age, race, ethnicity, and household status of residents in tsunami-prone areas demonstrate substantial range among communities that exceed these regional averages. The tsunami-inundation zone in several communities also has high numbers of residents in institutionalized and noninstitutionalized group quarters (for example, correctional facilities and military housing, respectively). Communities with relatively high values in the various demographic categories are identified throughout the report.

The tsunami-inundation zone contains significant nonresidential populations based on 2011 economic data from Infogroup (2011), including 168,565 employees (2 percent of the 20-county labor force) at 15,335 businesses that generate approximately $30 billion in annual sales. Although the regional percentage of at-risk employees is low, certain communities, such as Belvedere, Alameda, and Crescent City, have high percentages of their local workforce in the tsunami-inundation zone. Employees in the tsunami-inundation zone are primarily in businesses associated with tourism (for example, accommodations, food services, and retail trade) and shipping (for example, transportation and warehousing, manufacturing, and wholesale trade), although the dominance of these sectors varies substantially among the 94 cities.

Although the number of occupants is not known for each site, the tsunami-inundation zone contains numerous dependent-population facilities, such as schools and child daycare centers, which may have individuals with limited mobility. The tsunami-inundation zone includes a substantial number of facilities that provide community services, such as banks, religious organizations, and grocery stores, where local residents may be unaware of evacuation procedures if previous awareness efforts focused on home preparedness. There are also numerous recreational areas in the tsunami-inundation zone, such as amusement parks, marinas, city and county beaches, and State and national parks, which attract visitors who may not be aware of tsunami hazards or evacuation procedures. During peak summer months, estimated daily attendance at city and county beaches can be approximately six times larger than the total number of residents in the tsunami-inundation zone.

Community exposure to tsunamis in California varies considerably—some communities may experience great losses that reflect only a small part of their community and others may experience relatively small losses that devastate them. Among 94 incorporated communities and the remaining unincorporated areas of the 20 coastal counties, the communities of Alameda, Oakland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, and San Diego have the highest number of people and businesses in the tsunami-inundation zone. The communities of Belvedere, Alameda, Crescent City, Emeryville, Seal Beach, and Sausalito have the highest percentages of people and businesses in this zone. On the basis of a composite index, the cities of Alameda, Belvedere, Crescent City, Emeryville, Oakland, and Long Beach have the highest combinations of the number and percentage of people and businesses in tsunami-prone areas.

First posted February 20, 2013

  • This report is available only on the Web.

For additional information:
Contact Information, Western Geographic Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 531
Menlo Park, CA 94025
http://geography.wr.usgs.gov/

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Suggested citation:

Wood, N., Ratliff, J., and Peters, J., 2013, Community exposure to tsunami hazards in California: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5222, 49 p. (Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5222/.)



Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Study Area

Variations in Community Exposure

Composite Indices of Community Exposure

Conclusions

Acknowledgments

References Cited

Appendixes 1 and 2


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