The team of researchers is being led by Yumei Wang, a geotechnical engineer at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries in Portland, US.
Geologists predict that a powerful earthquake may soon trigger a massive tsunami that will flood the Pacific Northwest, destroying homes and threatening the lives of tens of thousands of people.
"The region's geology makes an earthquake-triggered tsunami inevitable and imminent in geologic time," Wang said.
In response, she is working with public officials and stakeholders to develop a series of tsunami evacuation buildings up and down the northwest coast.
They would be the first buildings of their kind in the United States.
"Unless we do this, we will have lots of people dying in a tsunami," Wang said. "That's not how we want our people to die," she added.
The region's next big earthquake could happen any day now, or it might not happen for several hundred years, according to Wang.
When the day comes, a tsunami-with inundation heights of 50 feet or more-could hit the northwest coast within 10 to 20 minutes.
"The standard emergency response in cases like these is to move people inland and uphill, but there are plenty of communities where people simply won't be able to evacuate in time," Wang said.
In Cannon Beach, Oregon, Wang has started meeting with officials to hold serious discussions on constructing the first tsunami evacuation building in the U.S.
The building, a proposed rebuilding of the town's existing city hall, would have to be made of reinforced concrete with a deep foundation and 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.
The building would provide a safe space that people could reach quickly and be ready for emergency response and long term recovery.
"Getting just one such building off the ground is a critical first step towards creating a network of buildings that will help save many thousands of lives," said Wang.