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Astoria hospital hopes to include tsunami upgrades in planned expansion

If awarded, a federal grant would help Columbia Memorial Hospital prepare for a natural disaster
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An artist's rendering of the planned expansion to Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. | COLUMBIA MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
August 31, 2023

Columbia Memorial Hospital is closing in on a $13.9 million federal grant that will allow the Astoria-based hospital to serve as a refuge for the community in the event of a tsunami or earthquake. 

Hospital leaders announced on Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has selected its application as a finalist for a grant to help communities reduce the risk from natural disasters. If selected, Columbia Memorial will use the money to make the planned expansion to the nearly 50-year-old hospital more resistant to an earthquake or tsunami. 

“We find ourselves struggling to grow in our current facility because of the design, and it was also built in a time where we didn’t know much about the Cascadia subduction zone,” Columbia Memorial CEO Erik Thorsen told Oggys Online, referring to a large fault line off the Oregon coast. 

Columbia Memorial plans to begin work next year on an expansion of the 25-bed acute care hospital that’ll add 180,000 square feet. The plan is intended to add more space at the hospital for services and will expand the hospital’s emergency department, operating rooms, laboratory and radiology services, while also adding a new chapel and dining facilities. 

Columbia Memorial plans to use the FEMA grant money on a “deep pile foundation” for the expansion. The foundation would extend deep below the earth’s surface, possibly reaching bedrock, helping the new building withstand an earthquake, Thorsen said. 

Another notable feature Columbia Memorial would use the money on is a “tsunami vertical evacuation structure,” an accessible surface on the roof of the third floor of the expanded hospital where up to 1,900 people could find high ground on the structure in the event of a tsunami. 

The hospital also plans to use the grant money to put generators and other critical infrastructure on the roof to keep it functional in case of an earthquake or tsunami. Thorsen said that the hospital is planning to have supplies and a kitchen that could support people taking refuge for up to 96 hours. A new helipad included in the expansion could also be used to evacuate people taking refuge at the hospital, he said.

“The other big part is really the location of our patients,” said Thorsen. 

The expansion would allow patients to be kept on the hospital’s third floor and they wouldn’t have to be evacuated from the facility in case of an emergency, he said. Currently, he said the entire hospital would have to be evacuated in case of an emergency. 

Mark Kujala, director of the Columbia Memorial Hospital Foundation, told Oggys Online that while FEMA might request additional information about its grant application over the coming months, he’s confident the hospital in Astoria will be selected. 

Thorsen said he’s grateful that the grant has the support of many community members and elected officials, including area Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.

“Columbia Memorial Hospital serves communities on Oregon’s North Coast, and it must be able to withstand a natural disaster,” Bonamici said in a statement. 


You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.

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