THE REALLY BIG ONE

Click here or on the pdf file to read the full article which I’ll warn you is very descriptive and scary or read excerpts below from How To Stay Safe When The Big One Comes (pdf).

 

Schulz -The Big One-Map-4

Are we overdue for the Cascadia earthquake?

No, although I heard that word a lot after the piece was published. AsDOGAMI’s Ian Madin told me, “You’re not overdue for an earthquake until you’re three standard deviations beyond the mean”—which, in the case of the full-margin Cascadia earthquake, means eight hundred years from now. (In the case of the “smaller” Cascadia earthquake, the magnitude 8.0 to 8.6 that would affect only the southern part of the zone, we’re currently one standard deviation beyond the mean.) That doesn’t mean that the quake won’t happen tomorrow; it just means we are not “overdue” in any meaningful sense. The odds I cite in the story are correct: there is a thirty-per-cent chance of the M8.08.6 Cascadia earthquake and a ten-per-cent chance of the M8.79.2 earthquake in the next fifty years. Here’s a handy chart from DOGAMI showing the earthquake history on the Cascadia subduction zone and our own current location on that time line:

Realistically, given all that vulnerable infrastructure and the huge scale of the problem, is there anything individuals can do to protect themselves?

  • If you own a home anywhere west of the Cascade Mountains, bolt it to its foundation.
  • Strap down your water heater.
  • Know how to turn off your gas and water main.
  • Redecorate your home with an eye to gravity.
  • Make a plan with your family.
  • Get to know your neighbors.
  • Keep an earthquake kit in a safe, accessible spot in your home.
  • If you live in the tsunami zone, know how to get out.
  • If you are visiting the tsunami zone for the day, walk or drive the evacuation route before settling in.
  • If you are an out-of-towner planning to spend the night in the tsunami zone: don’t.

Demand better seismic safety. Reporting this story turned me into a big believer in individual preparedness—but no amount of it can keep you safe if the bridge you’re on collapses. Many of the worst problems facing the region will require major public-works projects to fix them, and others will require private companies (such as utilities) to commit to solutions, but the general public can play an important role in bringing about that kind of change. In Portland, a city whose citizens have successfully lobbied for curbside composting and hundreds of miles of bike lanes, parents send their children off every morning to brick schools that have not been retrofitted. Part of the problem is obliviousness, or disbelief. “Most people think someone is handling this,” Chris Goldfinger, the seismologist featured in the original story, said. “And that’s not true. No one is handling it.” If you’re alarmed by seismic issues that exceed your own capacity to solve them, find the person who should be handling it and make some noise.

One final answer to a question I’m suddenly getting asked a lot: what on earth am I doing out here?

I live in New York most of the year, but I spend my summers in Oregon. Nothing in my personal or professional life obliges me to do so. Clearly, I am not oblivious to the risks. Given all that, and given the scenario I outlined in this article, why do I still choose to spend time here?

Part of my answer is, I imagine, one I share with many people in the region: this place feels like home. I used to live here year-round, I still have family and friends in the area, and I dearly love it—so much so that there is an inverse correlation between the airplane descending into the Portland airport and my own spirit rising. Part of why I’m so happy here is that I’m something of a mountain freak; as often as I can, I slip away from work to head out into the Cascades to run or bike or climb. Those are not risk-free activities, so I think a lot about the amount of danger I choose to tolerate in order to do the things I love. Or, more precisely, I think about the amount of danger I must mitigate to do the things I love.

That’s one way of looking at life in the Pacific Northwest: it’s a wonderful activity, but to do it safely you need to understand its inherent risks and work to allay them. That’s the other reason I’m still here: I’ve done that work, and I’m comfortable with the level of risk I now live with. I’m still scared for the region, but I am not scared in it. Take some basic steps to protect yourself, work to draw attention to those issues that demand collective action—do that, and you need not be overly scared either.

e final answer to a question I’m suddenly getting asked a lot: what on earth am I doing out here?

I live in New York most of the year, but I spend my summers in Oregon. Nothing in my personal or professional life obliges me to do so. Clearly, I am not oblivious to the risks. Given all that, and given the scenario I outlined in this article, why do I still choose to spend time here?

Part of my answer is, I imagine, one I share with many people in the region: this place feels like home. I used to live here year-round, I still have family and friends in the area, and I dearly love it—so much so that there is an inverse correlation between the airplane descending into the Portland airport and my own spirit rising. Part of why I’m so happy here is that I’m something of a mountain freak; as often as I can, I slip away from work to head out into the Cascades to run or bike or climb. Those are not risk-free activities, so I think a lot about the amount of danger I choose to tolerate in order to do the things I love. Or, more precisely, I think about the amount of danger I must mitigate to do the things I love.

That’s one way of looking at life in the Pacific Northwest: it’s a wonderful activity, but to do it safely you need to understand its inherent risks and work to allay them. That’s the other reason I’m still here: I’ve done that work, and I’m comfortable with the level of risk I now live with. I’m still scared for the region, but I am not scared in it. Take some basic steps to protect yourself, work to draw attention to those issues that demand collective action—do that, and you need not be overly scared either.

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