Roughly 315 years ago a massive earthquake struck off the Pacific Northwest, sending tsunamis crashing into both the North American shore – and some hours later – into Japan. Luckily, this happened before European settlers had settled the region, and so very few people were around to witness it.
While Hollywood has made the San Andreas fault in Southern California far better known, the Cascadia fault that runs along the Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and B.C. coast is believed capable of generating an even larger earthquake.
And warnings from the Oregon State University (see 13-year Cascadia study complete – and earthquake risk looms large) back in 2012 suggest this region is overdue for another quake; one that could conceivably match the power of 2011’s Great Northern Japan Quake.
These concerns have been further elevated by the recent publication of a New Yorker article called The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.
While some people have taken these cautionary statements constructively, and are beefing up their earthquake preparations, others have adopted a more fatalistic attitude.
Troubling, because fatalism in a survival situation has a habit of become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yesterday Oregon State University – which has been a leader in earthquake research in the Pacific Northwest – released a lengthy article urging people to channel their fears into positive, and pragmatic, action. I’ve only excerpted part of the article, follow the link to read it in its entirety.
CORVALLIS, Ore. – A national news article suggesting that everything in Oregon west of Interstate-5 “would be toast” in a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake certainly drew attention to the seismic reality facing the Pacific Northwest.
The concern, though, is that people are focusing on the most draconian or extreme scenarios, experts say, which can lead to a sense of fatalism. The reaction illustrates the state of earthquake and tsunami preparedness – or lack thereof – in the United States, said Patrick Corcoran, a Sea Grant education and outreach specialist at Oregon State University who works with coastal communities on disaster preparedness.
It’s a matter of feast or famine.
“The Cascadia Subduction Zone has shifted from a science project to a social studies project,” Corcoran said. “We need to find a sweet spot between fear and action. What I try to do is temper the tendency of people to toggle between the poles of ‘it won’t happen here’ and ‘it will be so bad that there’s no use worrying about it.’”
Oregon has been taking some of the first serious steps toward earthquake mitigation, said Scott Ashford, dean of OSU’s College of Engineering and chair of governor-appointed task force on preparation. Recent legislation has resulted in a large increase in funding for K-12 and emergency facility seismic retro-fitting, as well as the creation of a new position – the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer.
Oregon is also working on some of the first tsunami building codes, which likely will be implemented over the next few years.
Oregon State University scientists have been warning Pacific Northwest citizens for more than a quarter of a century about the potential of a major earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The subduction of a tectonic plate beneath North America has the potential to trigger an earthquake ranging from magnitude 8.0, as happened in Chile in 2010, to 9.0 (or greater), which took place in Japan in 2011.
Scientists believe that a magnitude 9.0-plus earthquake, which Corcoran calls “the largest of the large,” would likely trigger a tsunami that could devastate coastal communities, while the earthquake could destroy infrastructure throughout western Oregon and Washington, including roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, and the power grid.
However, he added, the more probable scenario is an earthquake on “the average side of large,” where the damage is less. The best response isn’t necessarily to flee the region, Corcoran said, but to become pro-active in preparing for a disaster.
As residents in Japan, Nepal, Chile and other countries have done, Northwesterners need to learn to live with the realistic threat of an earthquake and tsunami – not ignore the threat and hope they don’t happen.
Having spent nearly a decade as a paramedic/EMT (Florida & Arizona), more than a decade living and cruising aboard sailboats, and another 10 years living in the backwoods of Missouri, I’ve pretty much embraced the preparedness lifestyle out of sheer necessity (see NPM11: Living The Prepared Life).
You don’t do those things and come out (relatively) unscathed without taking a few precautions.
I’m not talking having an underground bunker, an armory, or 20 years worth of freeze dried food. I mean having an emergency plan, a good first aid kit, a `bug out bag’, an emergency NWS radio, and enough supplies on hand in my home to go a week or 10 days without running water, electricity, or making a grocery store run.
And most importantly having – and being – a `disaster buddy’ (see In An Emergency, Who Has Your Back?)
Given the broad range of potential disaster scenarios it doesn’t make sense to specifically `prepare for a pandemic’ or `prepare for an earthquake’, since neither may show up when the wheel of misfortune is spun for your community.
Instead, it makes sense to maintain a general level of preparedness against `all threats’.
Disasters happen every year in this country, and can affect millions of people, which is why FEMA, READY.GOV, and many other agencies constantly promote personal, family, and business preparedness. September is designated National Preparedness Month, and – as we do every year – I’ll be devoting a good deal of blog space to it again this year.
It doesn't take a huge investment in either time or money for you and your family to become better prepared. It just takes the resolve to do so. But I can assure you, just having the peace of mind knowing you are prepared for an emergency is well worth the effort.
After all, preparing is easy . . . it’s worrying that is hard.
For more on earthquake and tsunami preparedness, you may wish to revisit: