This week’s New Yorker article on The Really Big One has struck a chord with my friends on my Facebook feed. I’ve seen several posts this morning from geologists and non-geologists alike expressing fear and hopelessness in the face of a looming threat: the next great Cascadia earthquake, which may happen at any moment and will bring the coastal Pacific Northwest along with both Portland and Seattle to its knees.
Though the article’s science and history are spot-on, the author has left out a critical part of the story: just what are we supposed to do about it? Contrary to popular belief, a Cascadia earthquake does not mean that everything is simply “toast,” as FEMA’s Kenneth Murphy is quoted as saying. Each of us has the power, both as individuals and as a regional community, to prepare for survival and resilience.
Keep reading to learn more about what you can do!
How to keep you and your family safe
There is much you can do at an individual level to prepare for a disaster and survival afterwards. Plan your family’s response with the help of this brochure: Living on Shaky Ground: How to survive earthquakes and tsunamis in Oregon. Flip to the last page to find a list of the Seven Steps for Earthquake and Tsunami Safety. Go through each point step-by-step with the help of the pages referenced in the brochure.
Print this page out and post it in your home. Lists like this can seem overwhelming, but if you tackle them slowly–say, checking one box each week or even only one a month–you’ll be improving your situation bit by bit. Most solutions are low-cost or no-cost. And every little bit helps.
It’s also fun to play this little game at Drop! Cover! Hold on! — click on “Beat the Quake” in the bottom right to see if you can quake-proof the living room before the next one hits!
A resilient Pacific Northwest
But what to do about the bigger problems: the outdated physical infrastructure, the schools built in danger zones, the utilities in the path of destruction? This is a thornier issue, but by no means an insurmountable one.
First, recognize that not everything is doomed: once the danger of Cascadia was recognized in the early 1990s, Oregon’s building codes became much stricter in response. Anything built after about 1993 was designed with Cascadia in mind.
Second, we, as a region, must decide to invest in improving our infrastructure. This is not a problem that will be fixed in a year or two, or even in ten years. But remember: the earthquake hasn’t happened yet, and just as with the family preparedness lists, every little bit helps. Every retrofitted bridge or new vertical evacuation structure is one more fiber for our safety net. Be sure to support infrastructure projects at the polls, and tell your legislators that disaster preparedness is important to you.
Our infrastructure problems may not be completely resolved within the timeframe of the present generation. Imagine, though, what we can do in the next thirty years. Imagine working to ensure our grandchildren inherit a resilient community, able to respond to whatever Mother Nature may send our way.
Have you printed out the Seven Steps to safety yet?
Bonus: want to learn more about Great Earthquakes and the science of earthquakes from around the globe? Tonight’s Science Pub by OMSI features Dr. Thorne Lay, professor at UC Santa Cruz, speaking on this very theme at the Hollywood Theater in NE Portland.