Grant to finance wayfinding signs for emergencies

An evacuation route sign at the end of Pacific Way in Gearhart.

When it comes to surviving a tsunami on the North Coast, there are a number of signs that tell you where it is safe and where it is an inundation zone.

But what about the signs that help you get there?

“We’ve got a sign that tells you that you’re in danger, and a sign to tell you that you are safe, but we don’t have enough signs telling you how to get there if you don’t know where you are going,” Clatsop County Emergency Manager Tiffany Brown said.

Providing more wayfinding signs to guide people in the right direction while they are on an evacuation route is one problem Brown hopes to solve with a recently secured $30,000 state homeland security grant.

The grant, which should be available by October, will fund what Brown calls the “Tsunami Evacuation Sign System Assessment” project, and will focus on adding more signs as well as creating a geographic information systems database to track where evacuation route signs are placed throughout the county.

“A wayfinding sign would help in a situation where you aren’t from around here, and it’s the middle of the night and you are at an intersection trying to remember where to go,” Brown said.

The evacuation routes and high-ground locations in Clatsop County were previously identified by way of a community planning project led by the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries in 2012, Brown said.

A limited number of signs were installed to reflect the newly established inundation levels and evacuation routes designed in 2013, however, and the stakeholder group tasked with defining where signs were needed found many of the routes had inadequate signing because they were stolen, damaged or out of date, Brown said.

“It’s about getting an inventory about signs we have, filling in gaps of where we still need them and then creating this GIS database so we can maintain all of them,” Brown said. “Right now it’s hard to determine what is missing because we don’t have a baseline.”

The county does not have clear records of how many signs exist and where they are placed along the 90 established evacuation routes. Part of the grant will include hiring a planning consultant who will work with 15 stakeholder groups from school districts, homeowner associations and representatives from five cities to perform an initial assessment of route signage to identify wayfinding gaps.

The consultant will then make final recommendations and create a database for sign types and locations intended to make future system maintenance and additions easier, Brown said.

“If you live here, you are aware of the hazards in the place you’ve chosen to live,” Brown said. “If you are vacationing here, that reality is not something you necessarily understand. It may be our only shot at saving their lives.”

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