Shaky Ground: UO’s plan for the Big One

What would you do if you got an alert telling you the biggest earthquake in the Pacific Northwest was about to hit? How prepared are you for the inevitable? The predicted 9.0 magnitude earthquake is 75 years overdue, and scientists expect its arrival in the next 50 years. Residents from Vancouver Island to Portland to Cape Mendocino need to create a plan now to prepare for this inevitable force of nature.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake is most commonly referred to as “The Big One.” The Cascadia Subduction Zone is where the Juan de Fuca, an oceanic plate, and the North American tectonic plate meet. The North American plate is steadily bulging upward as a result of the Juan de Fuca plate pushing it head on. Sooner — rather than later — North America will spring up causing a devastating chain of events.

9.0 earthquakes differ from 6.0 or 7.0 in the length of time it takes and the damage it creates. Moderate to large earthquakes, ranging from 5.0 to 7.9, last between 10 to 30 seconds; whereas 9.0 earthquakes can last up to five minutes. The last 9.0 earthquake the Pacific Northwest felt happened in 1700. The entire coastline dropped between 3 to 6 feet and a tsunami, reaching 33 feet, traveled across the ocean and hit Japan.

This earthquake will “affect the entire Pacific Northwest in one afternoon, and it’s going to change our economy and our culture and our society profoundly,” said Ian Madin, a senior scientist and earthquake hazard with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries for a KOIN special report.

A 2018 report from the Oregon DOGAMI says the aftermath could result in tens of thousands of people wounded or killed, $80 billion in building damage and more than 250,000 people facing long-term displacement. Buildings and bridges are expected to buckle. Gas and electricity will be out for a period of time. Local, state and federal governments can only do so much for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who will be affected.

My goal here isn’t to scare you or make it seem like there’s no hope. My goal is to convince you to prepare. There are tons of steps you can take to make you, your friends and your family as prepared as possible.

Having a family and friend plan is a great first step. Discuss multiple meeting locations that will work for all parties involved. Go over who will partner with whom if the group splits up, whether it’s voluntary or involuntary. Plan for phone lines in and around your city to be jammed, so assigning a contact who is outside of the disaster zone will allow for an immediate information source.

Make sure you have your family documents all in one place and ready to go. Get familiar with your evacuation routes; walk them if you can. Be conscious about the type of food you store. Electricity will be down, so heating your food will need to be done with a flame. A pan, pot, can opener, plates or bowl and some utensils cover the basics.

Also, remember that your neighbors will be your first responders. We saw this a couple weeks ago when Texas faced a brutal winter storm. Neighbors came together to supply blankets, food, water and even shelter for one another. It’s easier to hold on through disaster when you have a community.

Oregon is implementing an earthquake early warning system called ShakeAlert that will send alerts to our wireless devices. Lane County asks families to plan on storing enough supplies “for everyone in your family for at least 72 hours.” It also advocated for a DIY disaster backpack, with water bottles, snacks, flashlights, gloves, sturdy shoes, etc., as well as a first aid kit, that can be stored somewhere accessible.

Today, millions of Oregonians, Washingtonians and Californians are living in the epicenter of the next great natural disaster.  The fallout will create the largest humanitarian crisis ever seen on U.S. soil. And we don’t know when it will happen. Just taking the time to create a plan for the inevitability of the Cascadia Subduction Zone’s wrath is going to save lives.