Talk prepares residents for ‘the big one’

It’s almost 10 a.m. on a Monday in February, rush hour in the middle of winter, as you make your way to work.  You feel the ground beneath your car shaking severely and see massive cracks developing on the freeway, completely altering the road up ahead of you. The shaking continues for five minutes as you witness disaster and chaos increase exponentially.

According to experts, a full fault line rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone would mean that 800 miles along the fault, from the top of Washington to northern California, would be devastated by a 9.2 magnitude earthquake. The epicenter of this quake would be 120 miles west of Eugene and about 60 miles off the coast. This would cause tsunamis with heights ranging from 12 to 40 feet at landfall.

Such a description is of a model used to explain “the big one,” a name developed for the potential earthquake by Kathryn Schulz in an article published by The New Yorker back in 2015. The point of this model is not to frighten, but to increase awareness and preparation.

Washington State University Vancouver’s Department of Public Safety and ASWSUV sponsored a dialogue led by Scott Johnson, the emergency management division manager for Clark County, to teach people about preparation for such an event. Along with this lecture, multiple vendors attended the event to showcase emergency products and teach people about what local resources are already being offered.

According to Johnson, no one really knows when this catastrophe could strike. Seismologists have studied the shifting of these plates and understand that major eruptions happen every 300 to 500 years. The last one occurred in 1700. As a rule of thumb, the more time that elapses between eruptions, the greater the chances of a larger one occurring. Johnson explained that “we [are] either 17 years into the envelope or, because I [am] an optimist, I have 183 years to get ready.”

Preparation was a key part of this dialogue. Johnson proceeded to give some statistics on the functionality of our community in the case of such an emergency. It is estimated that only 7% of hospitals, 8% of police departments and 18% of fire departments would have no structural damage. 78% of electrical services and 89% of potable water services would have suffered medium to severe damage. Such damage would greatly diminish the availability of resources needed to get help.

When a severe quake occurs, the land breaks into what are called micro islands. There can be fallen power lines, collapsed bridges, landslides and much more that will immobilize an entire community, restricting it to the resources on hand in that specific area.

Johnson said that in any disaster it is important to remain calm and prepare for aftershocks. People usually respond by first ensuring that they are okay, ensuring that those around them are okay and then attempting to find out whether their loved ones are okay. With communications down and most roads being completely blocked off, this will be very difficult to do. Johnson encouraged people to make a plan and to be well acquainted with the community around their home. Knowing who your neighbors are will greatly increase one’s sense of security for children or pets that may be at home.

Johnson also urged people to put together emergency kits, explaining that “no one can make a better emergency kit for you, than you.” These is no one size fits all as every family has different medical needs, allergies, family size, pets, etc. These kits should include supplies for sanitation, nutrition, shelter and medical needs. He encouraged people to have multiple supply kits, one for the home and one that could be stored wherever you spend most of your time, such as at work or school.

One of the organizations at the event was Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency. CRESA serves 460,000 people in the community and has a staff of 6. People need to make an individual plan so that the community as a whole can be more resilient, allowing for CRESA to locate the most problematic areas until help from other parts of the country arrives. For more information on how to prepare and develop a plan for when “the big one” strikes, local emergency managers recommend referencing the resources below.





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