FEMA Prepares for 9.0 Magnitude Earthquake Off Oregon’s Coast

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Oregon Governor Kate Brown was picked up in a helicopter by the Army National Guard to survey the damage. A 9.0 earthquake and tsunami had just struck off the coast of Oregon, and there was no time to spare. As she boarded a UH-72 Lakota helicopter to practice authority response to “the Big One”, she pressed citizens to prepare with a plan and supplies.

"By failing to prepare (for an earthquake), you are preparing to fail," Brown said, quoting Benjamin Franklin. Brown was speaking to media as emergency responders and soldiers executed a megaquake response drill. It was the largest seismic event drill ever to be ran in the Pacific Northwest, and came in response to local calls to prepare. Brown painted a picture of what Oregon citizens will feel- "The ground will shake for four to six minutes, buildings and bridges will fall, landslides will sweep down hillsides, and in some places the ground will liquefy," Brown said. "Then, a tsunami will inundate the coast with as little as 15 minutes warning.".

The region-wide drill is called Cascadia Rising, and it is designed to test regional preparedness for a 9.0 magnitude earthquake 95 miles off of the coast of Oregon that results in a tsunami. FEMA projects that nearly 13,000 people will die in a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another 27,000 will be injured, and the agency expects it will need to provide shelter for 1 million displaced people, and food and water for another 2.5 million. That would make Hurricane Katrina or Sandy look very tame in comparison. Amazingly, people familiar with federal modeling of a 9.0- or greater-magnitude earthquake say the exercise tested an optimistic scenario.

A quake will happen--in fact it's actually overdue. There is no way to know when it will strike, but we do know that the Cascadia fault erupts on average every 243 years. It's been 315 years since the last eruption, making our region 73 years overdue. Experts put the odds of a major quake here in the next 50 years at one in three. There is, however, a 100% chance of another major earthquake occurring here at some point, which is why officials are preaching preparation to residents.

Unlike California, whose famous San Andreas fault has ingrained the need for preparation, earthquake kits, evacuation plans, and stricter building codes, the Pacific Northwest is decades behind. After all, 30 years ago no one knew the Cascadia had even produced a major earthquake. 45 years ago, scientists didn't even know the subduction zone existed.

FEMA, Oregon state emergency agencies, and seismologists are asking every citizen to have their own plan ready. Each household should have food and water for a few days (at a minimum), a radio and communication tools that don't depend on the electric grid, shelter and warmth, first aid and hygiene items, tools to turn off utilities, and other essentials on hand. The popular Earthquake Bag comes with versions for 1-5 people, and has extra tools specifically designed for this type of disaster, like gas shut-off tools, a pry bar, and more.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and her husband, Dan Little, started preparing a kit for the governor's official residence in Salem, in April.

Experts estimate it will take I-5 corridor 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 eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. Hundreds of thousands of people will have to wait days, weeks and months for their electricity to be restored. And those estimates do not apply to the tsunami-inundation zone, which may remain uninhabitable for years.

“This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” FEMA Regional Administrator Kenneth Murphy says.

You know you need one, so stop putting it off and get it done. It was important to me to have a smart, well-thought-out bag I could trust. If you don’t have time to track down the best tools and materials to do it right, I’ve made one for you. I call it The Earthquake Bag, and it’s my mission to make sure everyone either buys one of mine or builds one of their own. Everyone is safer when we all are more prepared individually.

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  • Zach Miller
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