Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker Magazine has started a national conversation on the perils of a potential Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. Schulz’s 6,000-word article titled “The Really Big One” contains some sobering predictions.
Schulz cites some staggering forecasts of infrastructure damage to our region. “FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings — more than 3,000 of them schools — will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake. So will half of all highway bridges, 15 of the 17 bridges spanning Portland’s two rivers, and two-thirds of railways and airports; also, one-third of all fire stations, half of all police stations, and two-thirds of all hospitals.”
Her predictions on the potential time to repair that infrastructure are just as alarming: “Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC) estimates that in the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and 18 months to restore health care facilities.”
Once the gravity of these predictions settles in, one is left with the obvious question: What can individuals and local governments do to prepare for a Cascadia earthquake?
Individuals should consider the following to prepare for an earthquake:
If your house is not bolted to the foundation, have it done as part of a retrofit.
Strap your water heater to wall studs. Unstrapped water heaters can cause fires and flooding inside the house.
Make a family and/or neighborhood plan. If or when the really big one does come, our professional first responders could become overwhelmed by the volume of those in need. We should all be thinking about what we can do for our own families and neighbors in such a situation. Families should keep an earthquake kit and some amount of extra food and water in a safe accessible spot in your home. These kits can be purchased from the American Red Cross or assembled at very little expense.
Fortunately, some of the government planning for such an event began years ago by a variety of local leaders and organizations. Both Jackson County and the city of Medford have had emergency management plans for some time. Medford bolstered its plan by hiring Larry Masterman as a full-time emergency management coordinator in January 2014. In the short time Masterman has been on the job, the city of Medford has begun taking measures to make its public buildings safer in the event of an earthquake or other emergency, cultivated collaborative relationships with neighboring jurisdictions and local organizations, established a Medford Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and provided 4,500 hours of training to emergency responders, public officials and community members. Much of this training has been offered here for the first time.
One of the leading reasons the Medford City Council voted unanimously to upgrade its police and fire facilities was to increase the likelihood that our first responders would have a functioning base of operations after a natural disaster. The city also has initiated plans to ensure that emergency resources are available on both sides of the I-5/Bear Creek corridor. This is critically important in a metropolitan area that has both of its hospitals on the same side of a waterway and viaduct that may collapse, making east/west travel difficult for a time. All of this is just a start and there is much more to do.
The intractable problem in all of this is the I-5 viaduct. Without a viable long-term plan for this stretch of I-5, we could experience a serious blow to our economy for some time. The Oregon Department of Transportation is studying alternative solutions on how this stretch of I-5 can be made seismically sound. This is just a study to identify potential solutions and it will take a few years to complete. The recommended fixes to the viaduct cannot be accomplished without the help of the state and federal governments. In Kate Brown’s first trip to Medford as governor she visited the viaduct, which demonstrated that at least some state leaders understand its significance.
Hopefully, the New Yorker article will assist in getting the attention and resources of our national leaders. In the meantime, please consider enrolling in one of our CERT programs at the city of Medford and becoming a resource to your family, neighborhood and community.
Tim Jackle represents Ward 1 on the Medford City Council. The views expressed here are his and do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of the City Council.